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<![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Max_Writer]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/8662-Max_Writer Pen and Paper Games hosts a very powerful, but easy to seach and join database of players and game masters in the United States and Canada. Our forums are also a great place to find the most recent news, product releases, tips, and rpg discussion. en Thu, 26 May 2016 16:38:27 GMT vBulletin 60 http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/pnpg_style/misc/rss.jpg <![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Max_Writer]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/8662-Max_Writer Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Six http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1964-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Six Sun, 08 May 2016 18:28:06 GMT Sunday, May 1, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn... Sunday, May 1, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn Hogan, Hannah Gambino, and Kyle Matheson Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

On July 1, 2015, six people answered an ad in the paper looking for volunteers for a month-long experiment at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The work would pay $2,000 for the month’s work but those who volunteered would have to clear the entire month from July 1 to August 1.

Manuela “Manny” Rodriguez wore her black hair in a ponytail, usually with a baseball cap set backwards on her head. She was Hispanic and of average height, standing just under six feet tall. She wore a white tank top and a flannel shirt, primarily. She was a mechanic and strapped for cash but she bribed her boss with $100 to let her take the month off.

Jonathan Franks stood about 6’2” tall with sandy brown hair and was very good-looking. People often mistook him for a fashion model or thought that was what he should have done for a living. He told people he was a bank teller though in reality he was a conman. He needed the money and this sounded like an easy deal.

Elizabeth Tolini, as she called herself was Italian-American with dark brown hair, pulled up, and dark brown eyes. She was tan and obviously of Italian descent. She stood over six feet tall and was very leggy. Her actual name was Ella Auditore and she was an assassin. There was not much call for work in the last month so she decided to make an easy two grand.

The other three included Dan Adams, a plumber; Michael Curtis, who worked in a bank; and Dawn Henson, a housewife.

When they arrived, they learned it was a deprivation experiment. The scientists at Duke had set up a bomb shelter some 50 feet under the psychology classroom building of the university. The six subjects would be placed in the bunker with plenty of food, access to water, and books and video entertainment. However, they would have no contact with the outside world and would act as if they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust for the month.

The bunker was self-supporting with a generator, food, and water reserve to last a group of six people at least two months if necessary. It would be sealed from the outside world.

Every week or so, the scientists would contact them via intercom. In the meantime, they would be video and auditory recorded in order to gauge how people reacted to being literally in a bunker underground for that time. Additionally, there would be different difficulties placed upon them over the month to determine how average people would react to each other in such a situation.

All six of them signed the paperwork and were admitted into the bunker.

* * *

Over the course of the next few weeks, the six people dealt with each other in close quarters and amid the various tasks and tests the scientists set for them. One was a limited water supply for three days wherein the taps were only turned on for an hour a day. Other difficulties were set as they went. In one case, all power except for the air vents went out for two days.

They got to know each other fairly well. Dan Adams proved to be a creepy guy who hit on all three women in the place and grew depressed when he was rejected. Michael Curtis, when he learned Franks worked in a bank, pestered him incessantly about which bank he worked at. Dawn Henson talked about her children and her home life but treated the entire thing as a vacation.

Though the scientists told them they would contact them at least once a week, after the third week, the intercom remained silent. There was actually no contact after about the 22nd of July all the way until August 1. Miss Rodriguez assumed it was part of the experiment. Though the last week and a half of their time in the bunker was boring, it was pretty much a cakewalk.

* * *

Noon on August 1 rolled around but the hatch didn’t open as it was supposed to.

“What should we do?” Adams asked.

“Meh,” Miss Tolini said.

“What?”

“Meh.”

“Meh?”

“Meh.”

“I wanna get outta here!”

“Meh.”

“You know how long it’s been since … I need to get outta here!”

Miss Rodriguez continued reading the book she’d started the day before.

“Fine!” Adams said.

“I say wait a couple more hours and if they still haven’t contacted us, maybe try to get out somehow,” Franks said.

They waited a few more hours and, around 4 p.m., opened the sealed door, which they were surprised was not locked. An alarm went off and red lights flashed in the small room outside. They were surprised no one was in the outer area. The lights there were off but they knew an elevator stood on the opposite wall with a stairwell nearby.

Miss Rodriquez retrieved a flashlight, as did the others. Adams was ready to go.

“Gotta find my girlfriend!” he muttered. “I’m so ready. I’m so ready!”

“You’re so annoying,” Miss Tolini said.

“Whatever, I’m ready to go!”

“Then get out.”

“I’m going!”

Something about this doesn’t feel right, Franks thought.

Nothing happened when the elevator button was pressed so they went to the stairwell. It was just a shaft with a set of metal stairs made of metal mesh. It was about 50 feet up the shaft to the classroom building above. Miss Rodriquez assumed it was all part of the experiment and they made their way up, flashlights shining around as best they could. Adams led the way.

They reached the top without incident and opened the door into the darkened classroom building. They didn’t see anyone in the hallway and the classrooms seemed empty as well. Adams headed for the front door. Miss Rodriquez went to the hallway light switch. The clear plastic dome over it, to keep anyone from messing with the lights, had been smashed and pieces of jagged plastic lay on the floor under it. She tried the light switch there was no power.

Curtis and Mrs. Henson headed for the back door of the building, where they’d parked their cars. The others followed Adams towards the front of the building where the hallway opened into a foyer with windows. They saw about a dozen cars in the parking lot, one of them turned on its side.

“The ****?” Miss Tolini said.

A few bodies lay on the ground in the parking lot. Miss Tolini headed out the door to inspect one. Miss Rodriguez, watching out the window, was still convinced it was part of the experiment. She went to look for a circuit box. Adams walked towards his car, fiddling with his keys. Franks slipped into one of the classrooms to look for something to steal.

Miss Tolini reached a prone body on the ground lying face down on the asphalt. He stunk of a corpse and she grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him over. He’d obviously been dead for a while, his throat torn out as if by an animal. The dead man’s eyes opened and he looked at her. Then he reached for her.

As Adams opened the door of his car, someone grabbed his foot from underneath.

“What the hell?” he cried. “Get out of there you son of a *****!”

He started kicking at the person under his car.

Miss Tolini ran from the walking corpse towards her own car.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez didn’t find a circuit breaker on the front hall of the building. She walked back to the front window of the building.

* * *

Franks searched a disheveled classroom but the only thing he found was a woman’s finger. He picked it up and looked at it. It stank and he quickly dropped it.

* * *

Miss Tolini opened the trunk of her car and took out a small dagger. The man stumbled to his feet and shambled towards her. Another body sat up and looked in her direction.

“Nah,” she said.

She tucked the dagger into her jacket and pulled out the crossbow.

Miss Rodriquez walked out of the front door of the building, still convinced it was all part of the experiment.

“Ha ha,” she said. “Very funny guys.”

They could hear a car engine somewhere in the distance.

* * *

Dani Bateman drove the white Jeep Wrangler carefully through Duke University Campus. She was Native American and very tall and slim. She had very long braided hair. She wore camouflage clothing and heavy, steel-toed boots. Jaiquan Jayshawn Skadooter rode beside her, crossbow in his lap. He was tall and solid, a black man with dreadlocks. He wore camouflage clothing, the shirt unbuttoned so the Appalachian State Football jersey was visible underneath it. He had a chinstrap beard and wore a camouflage bandanna on his head. He was also very high on cocaine, as usual. Miss Bateman’s own crossbow, loaded and ready, sat in the backseat.

It has been nearly two weeks since the terrible things happened in the Boone, North Carolina, area and they had been making their way towards the coast ever since, only getting to the area of Raleigh/Durham in that time. Between blocked roads, zombies, triffids, and people trying to stop them, it had taken them that long on Interstate 40 and back roads to get just that far.

They had seen some terrible things. In Winston-Salem, the Wells Fargo Bank building looked like it had gotten hit by one of the meteors, the top floors smashed and fallen. There had also obviously been many fires downtown. They barely made it through the city with their lives. Closer to the capital of the state, they’d passed a church with all the windows boarded up on a back road. Someone with a rifle was up in the steeple. He’d shot as them as they drove by. They had to deal with some feral animals. Skadooter had insisted on stopping at hospitals and police stations in search of drugs. He had gone through it quickly at first but started to space out his use of the drugs as his supply had dwindled. They didn’t see much in the way of zombies on the highway but occasionally spotted one of the strange plants.

He had also wanted to drive all the time.

“I wanna drive,” he said.

“Why don’t you let me do this one?” she’d replied.

“Why?”

“So you can focus on more important matters … like dealing out your cocaine and everything.”

“You smart!”

“Yeah.”

They had been traveling in a caravan with gravedigger Floyd Wayne riding them with. Driving the other car had been EMT Abraham Jandhyala, Dr. Mikīl Wolfgang, and ASU student Courtney Dean in Jandhyala’s 2001 Audi A-3 hatchback. However, they’d lost the other vehicle in some confusion in the Greensboro area several days before and hadn’t seen them since. Just two days after that, Floyd Wayne had told Miss Bateman he couldn’t take Skadooter anymore and said he’d find his own way to the Outer Banks, meeting them down the line somewhere. If they made it to the Outer Banks, he’d find them.

“I’ll meet you in Roanoke,” he said to her.

He was gone the next morning.

“Where’s Wayne?” Skadooter said.

“Um … he went out for a little bit,” Miss Bateman said. “He was just wanting to … you know … he was just wanting to enjoy the scenery. You know.”

“Cool. Let’s wait for him.”

“Well, we don’t have to do that because he’ll just catch up. He’s a pretty smart guy.”

“Wayne’s my bro.”

“What’s even cooler is when he gets to see you, it’ll be a bro reunion, man. It’ll be so fun. It’ll be better than now.”

“Where’s Wayne?”

“No, man. He just … I didn’t want to tell you. Do you know what he said?”

Skadooter looked at her.

“Do you want to know?” she said.

“I love gossip,” he said.

“Okay. He was … he was planning on surprising you. He was going to throw a party and get a bunch of shit together like a bunch of drugs. And you just made me ruin it!”

“Naw, that’s so good. I’m so glad you told me. I hate surprises.”

“Okay.”

“Low-key, I’m kind of scared of surprises.”

“What … okay, that’s cool. Now you know. So it won’t be a surprise so we can go have fun. So let’s go meet ‘em!”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, Skadooter give me five!”

The man did so.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter said.

They went on their way, coming to Duke University that day. Campus was actually the best way to go through the area. As they passed through campus slowly, they spotted a woman in the trunk of her car who took out a large black crossbow. Nearby, a man seemed to struggle with someone on the ground. A couple of zombies shambled towards the woman. Miss Bateman noticed another woman was in the doorway of one of the classroom buildings.

“Dani!” Skadooter said. “Dani! I think that’s Wayne’s crossbow!”

“Maybe we shouldn’t get close to her because then she’ll get really mad,” Miss Bateman said. “She might want to shoot us.”

“I think she knows where Wayne is.”

“You think she’ll shoot us? ‘Cause I think she’ll shoot us.”

“Ain’t nobody shoot Skadooter. *****, I’m too fast.”

“Hey, Skadoots, there looks like there’s a zombie over there. You think we should get out and attack it or do you think we should just run over it or something?”

“Do you think it would hurt the car?”

“I think this car’s pretty strong.”

“Run that ***** over, then.”

“Okay. I’ll run the ***** over.”

* * *

One of what Miss Rodriguez thought were just more testers messing with them turned and walked towards her. Then a white Jeep Wrangler roared into the parking lot, just missing one of the zombies and curving towards the classroom building, stopping near her.

“I think you missed him,” Skadooter said Miss Bateman in the car.

“What are you doing!?!” Miss Rodriguez yelled at them.

“Should I bump the lock?” Skadooter said.

Miss Rodriguez ran to the car as it slowed.

“What are you doing!?!” she called again.

* * *

Franks heard the screech of tires from out front and so looked out the classroom window. He saw the white Jeep.

“Aw, that’s cute,” he muttered.

* * *

Miss Tolini pointed her crossbow at one of the zombies and let fly. The bolt went wide and struck a yellow car across the parking lot.

* * *

“Lock the doors,” Skadooter said, pressing the lock button.

He hit it wrong and accidently unlocked the doors.

“Skadooter, you know what you did?” Miss Bateman said.

“I’m savin’ our ass!” he replied.

Miss Bateman stopped the car and rolled down the window.

“What the hell you doin’?” Skadooter said.

“Hey, what’s going on?” she said to Miss Rodriquez.

“What’s going on!?!” the other woman replied. “Why’d you just tear into this parking lot?”

Franks appeared at the front door of the classroom building.

“Get in the car!” Miss Bateman said.

“You gonna talk to me about this?” Skadooter said.

Miss Rodriguez looked at the vehicle, trying to figure out how to get in and if she wanted to get in. Then she jogged towards her own car.

“It’s okay, I got my car!” she called.

Across the parking lot, Miss Tolini started to reload her crossbow.

“You wanna try and hit that person again?” Skadooter said to Miss Bateman. “And maybe not ***** out?”

“Hey Skadooter, why don’t you get out and go save her?” Miss Bateman said.

“Why don’t you let me drive?” he replied.

* * *

Franks surveyed the arguing couple in the Jeep, Miss Rodriguez running for her car and Miss Tolini working on reloading a crossbow.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez looked more closely at the man shambling towards her. He appeared to have a couple of bite wounds and smelled like road kill. She continued jogging towards her car.

Miss Tolini reloaded and backed away from the man walking towards her. He didn’t make any noise at all, just shambled towards her, looking at her with dead eyes.

* * *

“Why don’t you let me drive?” Skadooter said again.

“I think it’d be faster if you just got out─” Miss Bateman started to say.

Skadooter reached forward and turned up the radio. The only radio station they had been able to find was suddenly loud. It was someone talking as he described what he could see from wherever his transmitter was located, probably somewhere in Raleigh. The man was obviously not a professional radio announcer and it was very strange and somewhat creepy.

“Oh my God,” the voice said. “There’s a lady. I think she’s still alive! They’re getting her! Oh God!”

Miss Bateman turned the volume back down.

“I was listenin’ to that!” Skadooter said.

“Skadooter, if you want to help, get the **** out!” she said. “Ultimatum.”

* * *

Bored watching them play with what he thought were actors, Franks headed for another classroom, looking for valuables. He heard someone banging on something in one of the classrooms.

Sounds like that’s occupied, he thought. I guess I won’t go in that one, then.

He headed for another classroom. It was a science classroom with large, built-in lab tables on the sides and at the front, each with a sink. On the large one at the front, a man was tied down, rope binding him tightly by his wrists and ankles and holding him atop the table. Large nails had been driven into the sides of the table to secure the ropes. His chest and body cavity were opened up but the obviously dead man still struggled against the ropes that tied him down.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez continued to jog to her car.

Miss Tolini raised her crossbow and fired at the man coming at her, striking him in the left arm, the bolt entering inside his elbow. She heard a snap. She growled as it didn’t seem to even affect the man. He continued shambling towards her, coming at her and trying to bite her, his teeth snapping shut with a click. The man’s tongue was black and shriveled up and he stank like a week-dead corpse. He made no other noise at all.

* * *

“Fine, you want me to go help them, I will,” Skadooter said.

He pressed the button to unlock the door, locking it. He tried to open it but it wouldn’t open.

“I knew you didn’t want me to leave!” he said.

Miss Bateman unlocked the doors.

“Get the **** out, Skadooter!” she said.

“All right, but from here on out you don’t tell me how much cocaine I can take and I get to drive!” he said.

He climbed out of the car.

“I didn’t agree,” she muttered.

“Hey, watch this!” Skadooter said.

Outside the car, he tried a 360 no-scope, spinning part of the way around like a drunk ballerina and firing his crossbow. The bolt flew off the wrong direction entirely. He looked around confused, unsure exactly how he got out of the car.

“Doot doot!” he said like he’d done something.

In the car, Miss Bateman laughed, sighed, and then put the car in gear and drove towards Miss Rodriguez, coming up behind the zombie shambling after her. The thing didn’t pay much attention to the car and she bumped into it, knocking it over; it went down in front of the car. The back tire bumped over something and she heard a crunching noise. She continued over it and pulled up next to Miss Rodriguez.

* * *

Franks slowly approached the lab table and noticed several Exacto knives and surgical scalpels, all of them bloody, stuck into or laying on the table near the struggling man. Dissecting T-pins were stuck into the man, holding back sections of skin and muscle, leaving his chest and abdominal cavity open. Franks crept closer and the smell overwhelmed him; he turned and vomited onto the floor.

The man on the table looked at him with dead eyes, opening and closing his mouth as he bit in his general direction.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez looked back and saw the man the Jeep Wrangler had just run over. The man’s left arm was straight out and his left shoulder was crushed to a pulp. A tire track ran over his back. The man still trembled and shivered.

“What’s going on?” she asked the woman in the car.

Miss Bateman gave her a thumbs up. Miss Rodriguez backed towards her car.

Nearby, Miss Tolini turned and ran from the man shambling after her at a slow walk. The man Miss Bateman had just run over stumbled to his feet and looked in Miss Rodriguez’s direction.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Skadooter looked around. There were maybe a dozen cars scattered around the lot and he saw a man struggling with two zombies on the other side, screaming as they dragged him under the car.

He’s a goner, Skadooter thought.

He went to the nearest car and peeked in, hoping it was empty so he could loot it. A woman sat in the passenger seat, strapped in. As he walked away, he heard rattling coming from the car.

* * *

Miss Bateman, seeing the man stand up in the rear-view mirror, put the Jeep Wrangler in reverse and backed up, bumping into him again and knocking him down. He went under the Jeep and vanished. She backed up until she could see the man on the ground again. He was still moving.

Miss Rodriguez went to her car and opened up the trunk as Miss Tolini ran from the zombie that had been chasing her. The one Miss Bateman had run over twice stood back up.

* * *

Franks got closer to the man, pulling his shirt up over his face to try to cover up the terrible smell. There was not as much blood as he expected and he realized some of the man’s organs had been removed or at least moved around. It was the most grisly science experiment he’d ever seen and he suddenly had the dry heaves.

He picked up a few Exacto knives, tucking a couple away. The he looked at the moving corpse again. He poked the corpse in the hand with the blade but it didn’t react. There was not much blood either.

“Huh,” he said. “What the hell is this?”

He continued stabbing the man on up the arm. The man didn’t really react aside from trying to bite him.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Skadooter approached another car. He peeked inside and saw two children in the back seat, unmoving. One of the children was very small and in a car seat. He headed for the next car.

* * *

Miss Bateman, angry, put the Jeep back into gear. She pulled forward and curved the wheel to hit the zombie with one corner of the vehicle, knocking the man down again. She had angled the Jeep so the tire would definitely roll over the man’s body this time and heard a nasty crunching as she pulled forward, stopping the car when she thought sure it was in the right spot. She leaned out the open window and saw she had rolled the left front tire right up the man’s back about halfway. He struggled to move, his legs unmoving and his head bouncing up and down.

Nearby, Miss Rodriguez pulled a pump shotgun out of her trunk and started loading shells into it.

Miss Tolini ran past the Jeep and slowed to start loading another bolt into her crossbow. The zombie still on his feet shambled towards Miss Rodriguez.

* * *

Skadooter went to the next car and found it already broken into, the driver’s side window shattered. Lying on the passenger seat was a severed head. As the athlete looked in, the head, looking at him, started to open and close its mouth as if trying to bite at the man.

“Oh God damn!” he said.

His cocaine buzz was completely gone and he felt far too sober.

“****!” he said, stumbling away and towards the screaming of the man the two zombies had dragged under another car.

* * *

Miss Bateman took the Jeep out of gear, pulled the parking brake, leaving the vehicle running. She climbed out, walked over to the zombie, and stomped on its head. The skull was crushed as the bone shattered and brains and blood spewed out. Her boot was dirtied.

Miss Tolini walked up to the woman.

“Damn girl, you’re hardcore,” she said.

“Thanks,” Miss Bateman said.

Miss Tolini put her crossbow to her shoulder and aimed at the zombie shambling slowly in their direction.

“Do you want to get this next one?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Imma try,” Miss Tolini said.

* * *

Franks saw one lung was missing and part of the liver was gone from the corpse. The heart had also been removed from the body cavity and lay in the sink on the table, unmoving. He guessed the organs had been removed to see what would happen to the living corpse. Nothing had.

He took the Exacto knife, put it against the man’s temple, and shoved it in as hard as he could. The body jerked and then stopped moving.

“Huh,” he said. “I think I read that in a comic once.”

He looked for anything of value but the room was empty of anything except a sheaf of bloody notes that appeared to be the results of an “Experiment on the Animated Corpse.” The notes explained how certain organs were removed but the dead man would not die. It was noted there were no microscopes powerful enough to examine the blood.

One sheet noted everything had started on July 21, almost two weeks before. Apparently there were several thousand meteor strikes on the world which seemingly released something that killed people and then caused the bodies to rise from the dead. There was speculation an airborne pathogen was released but became a blood borne pathogen after the dead were animated. The dead seemed to spread the disease via bite.

* * *

Skadooter peeked into the next car and saw it was empty. He used the butt of his crossbow to smash out the driver’s side window. He reached in to unlock it but found it was already unlocked. He opened the driver’s side door. It was very hot in the auto and he started looking for anything of valuable.

The screaming had stopped from the car where the man had been dragged under.

Skadooter didn’t find anything of value in the car. There was a snow scraper and an umbrella. Nothing of value was in the glove compartment. He abandoned the vehicle and headed for the next car.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez moved behind the zombie heading towards the other two women but didn’t fire.

“Is there anybody else in the place or anything in the place that we could use?” Miss Bateman asked Miss Tolini.

“Well, there are, like, five other people around here someplace,” Miss Tolini, still aiming, said. “One I didn’t really care for, I think he got dragged under a car. I think he’s dead now.”

* * *

Franks listened and didn’t hear Dan screaming any more so decided to check and see how the others were doing. He went out into the hallway and heard somebody walking slowly down an adjoining hallway. He opted for the front door of the building, opposite the direction the footsteps came from.

* * *

As Miss Rodriguez loaded more shells into her shotgun, Miss Tolini shot the zombie that approached her right between the eyes. He was only a few feet away and knocked literally off his feet as he crashed backwards onto the concrete. They heard metal scraping against stone as the bolt had gone right through the walking dead man’s skull and stuck out the other side.

Miss Bateman clapped.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Skadooter found a car with a crossbow bolt sticking in the door.

“Who the hell would shoot a car?” he said, pulling out the black bolt and tucking it into his own quiver.

Then he focused his cocaine-hazed mind on the car and was suddenly upset. It was a yellow Porsche 918 Spyder in pristine condition. The little two-door was slung low to the ground, with a black spoiler on the back and a black roof. It was sleek and shiny and looked new. Aside from the hole in the door, it looked brand new.

“A wha …?” he muttered.

Being delicate, he tried the door handle and found the car unlocked. It smelled brand new on the inside.

“There’s gotta be drugs in here!” he said.

He did a little dance outside of the car.

“Oh yeah!” he said.

He didn’t notice the three dead men crawling out from under the car nearby with a large puddle of blood underneath it.

* * *

Both Miss Bateman and Miss Rodriguez noticed the two rotten men and the relatively fresh but probably dead man crawl out from under the car. Miss Rodriguez recognized one of the men as Dan Adams from the bunker experiment. He’d been bit in several places and looked about himself with dead eyes. Skadooter stood near the yellow sports car, stock still, staring at it.

Miss Bateman ran back to the Jeep and drove it over to Skadooter.

* * *

Franks was surprised at the carnage in the parking lot when he reached the front door of the classroom building. At least two men lay obviously dead on the ground and the two women he’d left the bunker with were both armed. There were also a couple of other people he recognized.

“Huh,” he said.

Then he noticed Dan Adams, apparently dead, with two other rotted men by one of the cars in the parking lot.

“Oh, that Dan prick died,” he said.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez walked towards the zombies, loading the last shell into her shotgun. Behind her, Miss Tolini pulled the crossbow bolt from the dead man’s arm and then put her foot on his skull and used both hands to rip the other bolt out. Blood and ichor splattered from the wound. She looked around and spotted Dan Adams and the other two zombies near a car across the lot.

Skadooter also noticed the nearby zombies, who walked slowly his way.

“Don’t let those zombies touch this car!” he said. “I’m gonna be lookin’ inside it for a bit.”

He climbed into the car, looking for anything he could find. He flipped the visor down and the keys fell into his lap. He did another little dance in the front seat.

Miss Bateman drove at the three zombies slowly and one was knocked to one side while the other two grabbed the front of the car and backed up, staying on their feet. She suddenly realized she had left the driver’s side window open.

At the classroom building, Franks headed towards the two women he knew. Miss Rodriguez ran towards the Jeep and the three zombies. Miss Tolini followed her towards the yellow Porsche to get her last crossbow bolt.

One of the zombies near the car moved to the open driver’s side window and leaned in, trying to bite Miss Bateman. She leaned back as the dead man’s teeth snapped together with a snap. One of his teeth cracked nastily.

“What the ****!?!” she cried out.

One of the rotten zombies was pawing at the passenger side window of the car, which Skadooter had left closed. The man who didn’t look like he was dead for long moved towards the Porsche, which suddenly came to life with a low roar. Inside, Skadooter felt himself getting very, very excited. The fuel gauge showed almost half a tank of gas. The man pawing at the passenger side window of the Jeep turned towards the Porsche as well.

Miss Bateman punched at the man in her window but only struck him a glancing blow in the face, which seemed almost loose on his head and squished nastily. Then she put the Jeep in reverse and backed away from the zombies, narrowly missing the Porsche.

Franks headed across the parking lot towards his own car. He was disappointed to see someone had broken the driver’s side window. He stopped and sighed.

“I’m the criminal and I get robbed,” he muttered to himself. “****!”

Miss Rodriguez continued walking towards the zombies, followed by Miss Tolini, whose crossbow was still unloaded. Then she noticed her third crossbow bolt was gone from the side of the Porsche.

“The ****?” she muttered.

The zombies shambled towards the two running vehicles.

Skadooter drove the Porsche past the zombies, curving around the parking lot to the two cars with open trunks nearby. One of the zombies stopped walking and just watched the yellow sports car as it moved. Miss Bateman put the Jeep in gear again and drove forward, aiming at two of the zombies and knocking both of them over, driving over each of them. She felt the jeep bounce over two things and heard crunching from below.

The others saw her run right over one of the men’s head with the front tire of the car, crushing the skull to pulp. The back tire went over the left foot and ankle of the other zombie, crushing it.

Rodriguez closed with the still-standing zombie and blasted away at it with her shotgun but missed.

“What the actual ****!?!” Skadooter said.

Miss Tolini stopped and started reloading her crossbow as the zombie with the shattered foot stood up.

Miss Bateman backed up again, trying to pin the two zombies behind her heading for the woman with the shotgun. She missed both of them, bumping them to one side as she went by them.

* * *

Skadooter searched the car for drugs but only found a nice pair of leather driving gloves in the glove compartment. He put them on. He found the switch to open the trunk, but when he pulled it, the hood of the car opened. Not knowing the engine in a Porsche was in the back, he was a little confused.

“Well, that’s weird,” he muttered. “Why did this open?”

He got out of the Porsche and looked under the hood but found the empty trunk.

“Where’s the motor?” he cried.

* * *

Franks went to the trunk of his car and opened it. He was pleasantly surprised to see the things there undisturbed. He took out the Glock 17 and pocketed it, as well as extra magazines. He also took out his baseball bat.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Miss Rodriguez shot the zombie with the shattered foot, blasting away his right thigh. The man fell to the ground, slamming his face into the pavement, and then crawled forward and bit her ankle. The other zombie turned towards the sound of the shotgun and started shambling her way. She screamed in pain.

“Oh no!” Miss Bateman said.

She grabbed the loaded crossbow from the back of the Jeep and climbed out. She fired at the zombie at the woman’s feet, missing completely. Miss Rodriguez then put the shotgun to the head of the man biting her and blasted it to pieces. Nearby, Miss Tolini aimed at the last zombie, Dan Adams, shambling across the parking lot towards Miss Rodriguez.

* * *

Franks, meanwhile, went across the parking lot to search cars. The first car looked like it had been vandalized. All of the windows were broken out, all of the tires were flat, and it had obviously been lit on fire.

* * *

The undead form of Dan Adams reached for Miss Rodriguez and tried to bite her, just missing as she stumbled backwards. With a roar, the Porsche turned and headed out of the parking lot.

“I’ll be back!” Skadooter called.

Then he was gone.

“Thanks,” Miss Bateman muttered. “That’ll help.”

She ran towards the last zombie as Miss Rodriguez put the shotgun into Dan Adams mouth and pulled the trigger, blowing his head off.

Miss Bateman looked around and saw no other zombies but realized the shotgun fire had probably attracted the attention of undead and any triffids in the area.

“Well,” Miss Tolini said.

“Who has a knife?” Miss Rodriguez said.

“I have a machete,” Miss Bateman said.

“Cut off my leg,” Miss Rodriguez said.

“How you gonna wrap that up?” Miss Tolini asked. “It’s gonna bleed out.”

They could see the nasty bite mark on the ankle.

“All right, let’s do it,” Miss Bateman said. “Would you rather live or a be a zombie?”

“We could put a peg on your leg,” Miss Tolini said. “Peg leg!”

“I can craft metal,” Miss Rodriquez said. “I could make a metal leg.”

“What do you want to do?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Cut my leg off,” Miss Rodriguez said.

“She gonna bleed out,” Miss Tolini said. “Ain’t nothing to stop it.”

Miss Bateman raised her machete over her head and brought it down on Miss Rodriguez’s leg. Unfortunately, the blade didn’t cut through the ankle as she intended, but struck her on the leg above it, cutting to the bone and then sliding down to the ankle, cutting skin, flesh, and muscle and leaving a large chunk of meat hanging there.

“I’m sorry!” Miss Bateman said. “I’m sorry.”

Miss Rodriguez screamed and passed out, blood gushing from the terrible wound. Miss Tolini quickly staunched the bleeding and bound up the cut. Then she bound up the bite wound though didn’t do a very good job on it. Miss Bateman cleaned up her shoddy job on the bite. Miss Rodriguez partially regained consciousness but was only semi-conscious, fading in and out. She was in terrible pain.

* * *

Franks found nothing of value in the other abandoned cars.

* * *

Miss Tolini noticed people were moving their direction though they were far off.

“**** that!” she said.

He grabbed Miss Rodriguez by the shoulders, dragging her towards the classroom building. Miss Bateman followed her.

“Hey, what are you doing?” she asked.

“That,” Miss Tolini said.

She pointed.

“That?” Miss Bateman said.

“That,” Miss Tolini said. “Way out there. That.”

“That?”

Miss Bateman finally saw the people walking towards them. They were pretty far off but seemed to be coming from every direction. She ran back to recover the shotgun.

“Do you really want to go inside or do you want to leave?” Miss Bateman asked. “Because we can get in my car. My car’s fine.”

“Take my car …” Miss Rodriguez muttered.

“But there’s probably medical supplies in there,” Miss Tolini said.

“But it’s also safer to get away,” Miss Bateman said.

“****, okay.”

Miss Tolini dragged Miss Rodriguez to the Jeep and they got her into the back seat. The people walking towards them were closer though still pretty far away. Miss Rodriguez wondered if they’d put her in an ambulance but was unsure where she was.

“I … want my car …” she muttered. “I … want my car …”

Miss Bateman got into the driver’s seat.

“Get in,” she told Miss Tolini.

The other woman ran back towards the classroom building.

“Pepperoni, get in the car!” Miss Bateman called after her.

“I’ll be back!” Miss Tolini called.

Franks followed her into the classroom building. Miss Tolini looked for some kind of map of the building and found a place where there might have been one once, but it had been ripped off the wall.

“**** me!” she said.

The sound of footsteps approached from the nearby corridor.

“**** it,” Miss Tolini said.

She turned and headed back out. Franks waited and she ran back.

“Hey you!” she said. “Come with us.”

She grabbed him by the arm but he resisted and she wasn’t able to easily move him.

“Fine, get ate,” she said. “Bye!”

She ran out of the building.

The person shambling down the corridor was a woman and he approached her slowly. She looked normal but looked at him with dazed eyes.

“Hello?” he said. “Are you okay?”

She didn’t respond but walked slowly towards him. He backed up when she got closer and he looked around for something to throw. There was a paper plate of stale cookies and he picked one up and chucked it at her. The cookie missed. He picked up the rest and flung the other four cookies, missing with all of them. The woman didn’t stop coming at him or say anything.

He swung with the baseball bat landing a glancing blow on her shoulder as she moved forward and tried to bite him, her jaws snapping shut close to him. He drew his pistol and stuck it in the woman’s face.

* * *

As Miss Tolini ran towards the Jeep, she heard a gunshot from within the building.

He’ll be fine, she thought.

“All right, are you ready to go?” Miss Bateman said as she reached the Jeep.

“Hmmm - one sec,” the other woman said.

She ran to her car and took out a leather rifle bag from the back, as well as another smaller leather bag.

“Okay,” she said as she climbed into the passenger seat with her gear.

Miss Bateman put the vehicle in gear.

“All right, we good to go?” she asked. “Let’s go.”

She drove away.

* * *

The woman had stumbled back and fallen to the ground after Franks had blasted her in the mouth with his Glock 17. He looked around and then headed back to the fake bunker for food and medical supplies. He heard a vehicle driving away from the building as he headed down the stairwell. He grabbed medical supplies and food and a few bottles of water as well, putting what he found in a couple of pillowcases and heading back to the surface.

As he exited the front of the classroom building, he heard a roar and a yellow Porsche driven by a black man in camouflage clothing pulled up out front. Loud music was playing on the CD player.

“Hey … what’s going on?” Skadooter said to the handsome man coming down the steps. “I’m back.”

“Not much,” Franks said.

“D’y’all handle them zombies?”

“Were you … huh.”

A lot of people were walking slowly towards them and starting to get closer.

“You need a ride or something?” Skadooter said.

“Yeah, man,” Franks replied.

“Let me show you something cool!”

“All right.”

The trunk on the front of the car popped open. Franks moved towards it as Skadooter got out of the car.

“Check this out!” Skadooter said. “No engine!”

“That’s … really cool, mean,” Franks said.

“Magic car! I bet this thing don’t even need gas.”

“I don’t know.”

Franks shoved the pillowcases into the trunk and closed it. Then he got into the car on the passenger side as Skadooter took the driver’s seat again. Skadooter had seen the others driving away but he said he’d come back so he had. He thought he knew where the others were.

* * *

It wasn’t long before Miss Bateman spotted the yellow Porsche pulling up behind them, the horn blaring. The car pulled around the left side and she saw Franks in the passenger seat, shaking his head. The passenger window rolled down and Skadooter leaned across Franks.

“Yo, we still goin’ to the beach!” he shouted.

Miss Bateman rolled down her window.

“Uh-huh!” she called.

“Spring break!” Skadooter yelled.

“Okay,” she called back. “Yeah.”

She rolled her window back up.

* * *

In the Porsche, Franks rolled his window up.

“Yo, what’s your name?” Skadooter asked.

“John,” Franks said.

“John. You ever do coke?”

“Nah, man.”

“All right. Good. More for me.”

“You sure you should be driving, man?”

“I’m good.”

Skadooter turned up the CD player.

* * *

They continued making their way east that afternoon, driving for about four hours. Franks and Miss Tolini both had trouble getting cell phone reception though the GPS in the cars seemed to work fine. Internet also proved to be very spotty.

In her vehicle, Miss Bateman turned on the radio with the lone man talking.

“I don’t know, I think they might have seen me,” the nameless man said. “I don’t know. They’re looking up. Oh God! One’s running! There’s a runner! Oh God! There’s a runner! Oh shit! Look at him go! Oh God! What the hell is that!?! Okay! I’m seeing something new! I’m seeing something new!”

The signal was started to break up.

“I think it’s … it’s … what the hell is that?” the voice said as Miss Bateman reached for the knob. “That ain’t human. That ain’t─”

The broadcast faded in a burst of static and she turned off the radio altogether.

“Somebody’s just wanting attention,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Bateman looked for CDs in the car to play some music. She had found some en route.

* * *

They had to take several back roads to avoid car wrecks, places where vehicles were simply blocking the roadway, and, finally, a barricade crossing Interstate 40 with armed men atop it. They ended up on a back road somewhere south of Raleigh as it started to get dark. They had learned it was safer to travel during the day as the lights at night made them a bigger target, it seemed.

“Where’s my car?” Miss Rodriguez called. When no one answered, she asked again: “Guys, where’s my car?”

Miss Bateman and Miss Tolini were talking about how best to get to the coast and if they should stop for the night.

“Guys, where’s my car?” Miss Rodriguez said again.

“We’re in it,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Rodriguez was very relieved.

“Thank God,” she said.

They discussed staying in their cars overnight but realized they would possibly have no warning before something broke in. There was also the potential of having a zombie wake up with them the next morning in the form of Miss Rodriguez thanks to her bite. They were unsure what would happen to the woman.

“What do you think the best course of action is this moment?” Miss Bateman asked Miss Tolini. “Because my intuition is saying we shouldn’t necessarily stop somewhere because that would leave us not being able to leave immediately.”

“Let’s knock on a door,” Miss Tolini said.

“Where?”

“I don’t know. If there’s a light on. If there’s no lights on, we probably shouldn’t. If there’s a light on, we should probably knock on the door. If there’s not, we should probably not trust it.”

“All right. Let’s do it.”

They started keeping an eye out for a light. When they saw one at a small farm off the road, they turned in. The light had come from between the two-story farmhouse and the barn and was moving. It looked like a lantern or flashlight. Then it was covered up and gone as they drove up the long dirt road that led to a circled driveway between the house, the unattached two-car garage, and the barn. There was also a chicken coop on one side and a few smaller sheds or outbuildings. Miss Bateman pulled up between the house and the barn, Skadooter pulling his Porsche up behind them.

“Hey!” Miss Tolini called.

There was no answer. Miss Tolini got out of the Jeep and looked around. It was very quiet and she noticed the windows of the house had been boarded up with large sheets of plywood. She went to the front door and knocked as Skadooter rolled down his windows.

“What the hell are we stopped for?” he called.

“Who is it?” the voice of an older woman asked from inside.

“Hi!” Miss Tolini said. “Hi … there’s five of us. Do you have a place for us to stay for the night?”

“You-you’ll have to ask my son.”

“Where’s he at right now?”

“He was going out to the barn but … he’s scared. Don’t threaten him.”

“I’m not going to─”

“He’s got a gun.”

“Oh.”

“He’s keeping them off us.”

“I saw a light in the field and it went out.”

“He wouldn’t go in the field. They’re out there in the woods.”

Miss Tolini looked to her right where the fields lay and could see the woods beyond the fields of wheat. The woods looked very thick.

“They come every night,” the old woman behind the door went on. “He’s-he’s … he went to the barn to check on the animals.”

“Okay,” Miss Tolini said. “We’ll go find him if that’s okay. Is there anything we should say so we don’t get shot?”

“Don’t-don’t threaten him. He’s really, really upset.”

“Excuse me!” Miss Bateman yelled from the car. “We are disciples from the Lord Jesus and we have come to spread the day of reckoning. If you’d let us in, we’d like to demonstrate what we can prove …”

Miss Tolini looked at her like she was crazy.

“Oh no!” the old woman from behind the door said. “More of ‘em!?!”

“What kind of God damned lies are you spreadin’ now!?!” Skadooter called from his Porsche.

“What do you mean ‘More of them?’” Miss Tolini asked at the door.

“Oh, they came through,” the old woman’s voice said. “They said ‘Find Jesus … or else.’”

“Or else what?”

“I don’t know. Simon shot at ‘em. He said ‘Get the **** off my property.’ He shot a few shots and they high-tailed it. They had guns. They were strange-looking folks. They were wearing all black. They said it was the day of reckoning and, if you weren’t a Christian, they were going to make sure you became one … or you were gonna die trying. They were scary folks.”

“Yeah … don’t listen to her.”

“Okay. As long as you’re not trying to hurt nobody.”

“We’re not. We’re just looking for a place to stay for the night.”

“Well go talk to Simon.”

“P.S. Do you make Salisbury steak or something?” Miss Bateman called. “‘Cause I’m hungry right now.”

“Hey, I don’t wanna do any more coke!” Skadooter yelled from the Porsche. “I need to go to bed soon!”

“Oh, is that a colored folk?” the old woman’s voice behind the door asked.

“How would you know?” Miss Tolini asked.

“‘Cause it’s in his voice. You can tell.”

“Uh … okay.”

“Okay.”

Miss Tolini walked back to the cars.

“We have to ask her son,” she said. “And I think he’s out here somewhere.”

She pointed at the large, red barn. It had big doors in the front and another door over the entrance to the hayloft above. All of the doors were closed. A corral was on one side but no animals were in it.

Skadooter got out of the car and stretched.

“Who the hell was you talking to?” he asked.

“Some old lady,” she said.

“Yeah, let’s get the hell outta here. I don’t trust this place.”

“They might give us a place to stay for the night. You wanna go to bed, don’t you?”

“I do wanna go to bed, but not in Redneckville North Carolina.”

“Redneckville … where is NOT Redneckville, North Carolina?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Listen, I didn’t have a lot of schools recruit me,” Skadooter said. “I had to pick the best one I could!”

“Uh-huh,” Miss Bateman said.

“I heard ASU was a bunch a druggies and I was like ‘All right.’”

“Oh my God.”

“Listen, if y’all wanna stay here, that’s fine. But me and John? We ain’t stayin’ here at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, all right? We’re gettin’ the **** outta here.”

“Good reference. Good reference. What is our decision?”

“I was going to go find that guy but she said he had a gun and he was scared so … maybe we should just leave,” Miss Tolini said.

“I don’t know,” Franks said. “I think I could talk to him─”

“Plus, zombies come every night. I don’t like that. Let’s go.”

“Let me go talk to him.”

“Are you telling me her son Bubba is out there in the dark with a ****ing gun?” Skadooter said.

“Yeah,” Miss Tolini said.

“Aw we definitely outta here now!” Skadooter said.

Franks got out of the Porsche.

“Let me go talk to him,” he said.

“Oh shit,” Miss Bateman said.

“I don’t like that,” Miss Tolini said.

But Franks was already on his way to the barn.

“John, get in the car!” Miss Bateman called. “John, don’t walk to the barn!”

As he approached the barn, Franks saw a rifle barrel stick out of the crack next to the door in the loft.

“Whoa,” Franks said.

“That’s far enough,” a man’s voice came from inside the barn.

“Okay.”

“What’s you folks want? You them Jesus folks come around here to torture us to Christ or some bullshit?”

“No, we’re just looking for a place to stay for the night. We don’t want to hurt anybody. We don’t want anybody to hurt us. We’re just trying to find someplace safe.”

“You-you got anything? Like anything to trade to stay?”

“Got a little bit of extra food we might be able to trade you.”

“You-you ain’t … there’s five of you?”

“Five of us.”

“There’s only two of us. But you try anything and I’ll fight. I’ll fight you.”

“Okay, I mean, we can … if you feel more comfortable, we can stay out in the barn while you’re in your house.”

“No. Stay there. Don’t move.”

The rifle barrel was withdrawn and a few moments later the lower barn door opened with a click. A skinny man of about 40 who hasn’t shaved or bathed in probably a week crept out. He held an over under rifle with a the small barrel on top, probably a .22, and a larger barrel on the bottom which was probably a 20 gauge shotgun. It was a hunting rifle and had a cheap plastic stock. He latched the door and then checked it, trying hard to get it open. It didn’t move though. Satisfied, he turned back to Franks and cradled the rifle in his arm. The two walked back to the cars.

The man looked at all of them suspiciously and then his eyes stopped on Skadooter.

“John?” the athlete said. “You and Forrest Gump having a good talk over there?”

“Huh,” Franks merely said.

“Name’s Simon,” the man said.

“Course it is,” Skadooter said.

“Wait a minute,” Simon said. “Ain’t you Skadooter?”

“Doot doot!”

“Omigod! I saw that game! I’m an ASU fan!”

“Aw hell yeah!”

“I can’t believe it’s Skadooter! Jayshawn Jaiquan Skadooter, right?”

“Jaiquan Jayshawn Skadooter.”

“Damn, I always get it backwards. They give me hell at the machine shop!”

“I forget sometimes too!”

“C’mon in! C’mon in! I gotta let grandma … I gotta let grandma … C’mon in!”

“That’s your grandma?” Miss Tolini said. “Okay.”

“I love my car!” Miss Rodriguez called from the Jeep as they walked away.

“We better get in the house before it gets dark ‘cause they come around,” Simon, not hearing it, said. “C’mon.”

“Okay, wait,” Miss Tolini said. “I’ve got to get this girl out of the car.”

“Oh. Oh my God.”

Simon helped her to get the woman, now gibbering in Spanish, from the vehicle and into the front door of the house, Simon bidding Granny to let them in. They heard something heavy move and, once they got in, found someone had built a makeshift bar to hold the door shut.

Simon told them they hadn’t had power for almost a week but they were making do. They noticed the kerosene lantern near the front door. He also told them they’d had some problems with some things in the woods that came out every night. When Miss Tolini asked if it was zombies, Simon shook his head.

“No,” he said. “They ain’t trouble. ‘Cause you can see them like a mile away and they just pop ‘em and they die. You shoot ‘em in the head and they go down. That’s what I found out.”

“Yeah, we found that out too,” Miss Tolini said.

“There’s some out there. But no, they ain’t out there no more because the other things took ‘em away.”

“What other things?”

“I don’t know. They’re these things. I ain’t seen ‘em up close. They only come out night and … I ain’t goin’ out there. They make this weird … yipping noise. Like …”

“What the ****?” Miss Bateman said.

“Like a dog?” Miss Tolini said.

“Like a what?” he said.

“Like a dog?” Miss Bateman said.

“No, more like a meeping,” he said.

“Like a fox,” Miss Tolini said.

“Kind of like a fox,” he said.

“So, it’s cute,” Miss Bateman said,.

“Oh, God no,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. I can’t see it. It’s dark out there.”

“Yeah.”

“But they been coming for the last three days and you won’t see ‘em, the dead people, out there, ‘cause they kind of come wanderin’ in every once in a while. And I shoot ‘em. But … but they’re gone now. All the bodies are gone. They just been lying out there, rottin’ after I shot ‘em in the head, but now they’re just gone. I don’t know what happened to ‘em.”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Skadooter said.

“Well …” Miss Tolini said.

“I say hell no,” Simon said.

“Hell no,” Miss Bateman said.

“Hell no, they’re dead,” Skadooter said.

“I’ve been wantin’ to get granny outta here but we only got the one car and I … I’m just worried about …” Simon went on. “What’s going on out there? The radio’s not working. TV ain’t working - or at least there’s nothin’ on. And there’s no power. And then there’s the … we got the - uh - we have the generator but weren’t not runnin’ it now ‘cause we ain’t got much gas left for it. And-and-and we got kerosene stove though, so we can still cook. Damned, I wish I’d a got one of them damned windmills. Anyway … but …”

He looked at all of them.

“So, I boarded up all the windows ‘cause we had some plywood but …” he went on. “They come around the house. But they’re comin’ closer every night. So … I’m worried about that.”

“What do you think they are?” Miss Bateman asked.

“I dunno. Ain’t never seen the like.”

“You have no idea?”

“No. They … I-I can’t see ‘em. It’s too dark.”

“I’m curious,” Miss Tolini said. “We should stay the night.”

“Oh … God,” Miss Bateman said. “Well I might as well stay with a group of people rather than go on myself, so I’ll stay with y’all. Let’s do it.”

“They been trying to get in the barn too,” Simon said. “That’s why I secured it real good at night, ‘cause─”

“Are there animals in the barn?”

“Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. We got some chickens in the coop and I secured that too. It’s all boarded up. Although the dead people walkin’ around, they don’t seem to care about chickens and cows. We got some cows and some sheep and two horses.”

“Woo cows!” Miss Rodriguez called from the couch where they’d laid her.

“Yeah,” Simon said. “Okay. Is she okay?”

“Uh … no,” Miss Tolini said. “Um … we might need some rope for her and we need to cut off her leg.”

“What? Why?”

“She got bit. By the zombies. When you get bit, you turn into one.”

“You do!?!”

“Apparently. This one guy I saw, he got taken underneath this car and he got turned into one of them. So we need to tie her up for the night. See what happens.”

“We could lock her in the cellar.”

“Okay.”

“The only way out’s the ladder. Can they climb ladders?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. They walk real slow though.”

“Okay, we could tie her up in the cellar if you want. It’s just got a dirt floor but it’s secure.”

“Yeah.”

“And I boarded up all the windows too. I didn’t want something coming up out of there.”

“You got anything we could chop of her leg with?”

“Uh …”

“What the ****?” Skadooter said.

“There’s a wood axe,” Simon said.

“We never finished cutting off her leg,” Miss Bateman said to Skadooter.

“I got a … well, there’s no electricity,” Simon said. “‘Cause I got an electric saw but you can’t run that. I guess I could get the generator going.”

“My legs already cut off,” Miss Rodriguez called. “Don’t cut off my leg.”

“She thinks her leg got cut off,” Miss Tolini said.

“I got a bandsaw,” Simon said. “I got a skill saw. That would not be easy, but I got a circular saw.”

“Don’t cut off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez called again.

“We could use that,” Simon said.

“We could try the axe,” Miss Tolini said.

“Are you a doctor?”

“Um …”

“Are any of y’all doctors?”

“Are you adopted?” Miss Bateman asked him.

“Am I adopted?” he replied. “No. She seems distraught. No, but what I’m sayin’ is if you chop her leg off, she already looks terrible. Will she live?”

“We might as well just finish her off and heal her up,” Miss Bateman said. “She thinks it’s hilarious. Let’s just do it.”

“Okay, this is what happens,” Miss Tolini said. “Either we chop her leg off and she might survive or she might turn into a zombie anyway.”

“Y’all don’t ****ing know that!” Skadooter said.

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez cried.

“If you wanna do that, you can,” Simon said. “I’d rather you didn’t do it in the house.”

“Okay, where would you rather do it?” Miss Tolini said.

“Well I guess we could do it … it’s getting dark out … I don’t want to go outside. I’d do it in the barn, but …”

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez called again.

She was staring at a dead flatscreen television but, in her mind, the show she was watching was amazing.

“I mean, I can do my best trying to patch her after it’s done,” Miss Tolini said.

“Man, I love this show,” Miss Rodriguez called.

“She … she loves that show …” Simon said, confused.

“What show?” Miss Bateman asked, walking into the living room.

“That show, right there!” Miss Rodriguez said, pointing at the blank screen.

“I guess we could do it in the kitchen …?” Simon said. “Maybe the bathroom. We could do it in the bathtub.”

“How about your porch?” Miss Tolini said.

“Do you know what’s on TV right now?” Miss Rodriguez called.

“There’s gonna be a lot of blood,” Simon said. “Have you ever chopped somebody’s … what are you chopping off?”

“Just her ankle,” Miss Tolini said, reaching down. “Like, right here.”

“You ever done that before?” Simon said.

“No,” Miss Tolini said.

“Do you know what’s on TV right now?” Miss Rodriguez said.

“It’s … uh … McGyver,” Miss Bateman said.

“I’ve slaughtered some animals,” Simon said. “There’s gonna be a lot of blood.”

“McGyver’s my favorite!” Miss Rodriguez said. “Richard Dean Anderson is the best. Like …”

“McGyver’s a good show,” Miss Bateman said.

“If ya want …” Simon said.

“It’s a hard call,” Miss Tolini said.

“It’s up to you. It’s up to you. I’ll help if you want but … Jesus Christ. I don’t know no medicine. Nothing like that.”

“Got any painkillers?”

“Just aspirin.”

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez said again.

“We got Granny’s arthritis medicine,” Simon said. “That’s pretty strong, but … it’s pain medicine, that’s all I know. I got some marijuana.”

“What?” Skadooter, sitting in the dining room, suddenly said.

“I have a little marijuana,” Simon said. “I used to grow some out in the field amongst the crops.”

“Let’s smoke some.”

“Okay, we can smoke some if you want. I usually smoke in the morning.”

“I do too, but I smoke in the night and the evening and …”

“Well, I just don’t want to be … them things out there scare me. I’m afraid they’re gonna try to bust in the house.”

Simon turned to Miss Tolini.

“So, what do you want to do?” he asked.

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez said.

Miss Tolini looked at the woman.

“You know what?” she said. “Let’s just make this a little game. We’ll lock her up in the cellar and see what happens.”

“Okay,” Simon said. “We can lower her down there with a rope or something.”

“We’ll patch her up a little bit before we keep her down there for the night.”

They did so. Simon made a comfortable enough bed for the woman in the cold cellar and they lowered her down with some rope. Then got her comfortably enough in the bed and left a lantern with her. She stared at the flames. They closed the trapdoor and put a heavy piece of furniture on top of it.

The others ate a small meal of the food Franks had and some of the food in the house. It started raining.

Later that night, they heard strange noises from outside. Indicating that was “them,” Simon headed upstairs. He had set up a barricade at the top of the steps and moved it back into place once they were all up there. Granny went to her room. Miss Bateman picked a bedroom and fell into the bed, going to sleep almost instantly, exhausted. The rest of them looked out the back windows on the second floor.

They saw movement in the field amidst the trampled crops. At first they thought it was people, but they moved more like apes, sometimes going on all fours. They were hard to see. The light rain came down and it was overcast. They could also hear some kind of strange meeping noise.

“Oh my gosh, it’s Beaker,” Franks said.

“The ****?” Miss Tolini said.

“I dunno,” Simon said.

“Is that all you can ever see?” she said. “Just walking on all fours?”

“You got this place barred in,” Skadooter said. “We’re good for the night, right?”

“They ain’t never tried to get in the house before,” Simon said. “Hopefully they won’t tonight. They’ve been trying to get in the barn. You can see the claw marks.”

“Well, if they can’t get into your barn … I dunno,” she said.

“I don’t either,” Simon said.

“We’ll be all right.”

“I hope so. I ain’t got these upper windows sealed up. So …”

“Why not?” Skadooter said.

“Why not?” Miss Tolini echoed.

“I ain’t got enough plywood,” Simon said. “I had to do everything I could down below.”

“Shit.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Why the hell we ain’t in the cellar?”

“You got any bookshelves or anything we could put in front of ‘em?” Skadooter asked.

A few bookshelves and dressers and a china hutch were pushed up in front of some of the windows, but they weren’t really secured.

“Let’s just smoke and go to sleep,” Skadooter said.

Miss Tolini quickly looked for anything else to use but it looked like Simon had used everything. Even the mattresses for the beds were lying on the floors. He’d used the bed frames to help secure parts of the house.

“There’s one,” Simon said.

“Shoot it!” Skadooter said.

One of the things came out of the field and moved carefully towards the house.

“I don’t wanna waste the ammo,” Simon said. “Not unless I know it’s coming for me.”

Miss Tolini opened up her leather rifle case and pulled out a massive Accuracy International AW 7.62mm sniper rifle. She pulled up the window sash and leaned out the window, aiming the rifle out at the things in the field.

“Now what the hell you doin’ with a gun like that?” Skadooter asked.

“I hunt,” she lied.

“The hell you hunt? Elephants?”

“Naw, them …”

“Nothin’?”

“Nope. Never mind. It don’t matter.”

“‘Never mind. It don’t matter.’ You know, I tried to say that to a cop once? Almost got arrested?”

“Well, that’s─”

“Pulled up and smoke come out my car window. ‘Never mind. Don’t matter.’ Yeah. All right.”

“That sounds like a different problem, sir.”

“You gotta lotta secrets. I don’t like you.”

“I mean, when you got smoke coming out the car, that sounds different from me having a hunting gun.”

One of the things moved towards the house and, as there was no porch on the back, they had a pretty good view of the darkened field. It moved towards the back door where the stoop was and clambered directly towards the back door. She followed it with the site. When it was right below her, it looked directly up with green-glowing eyes.

Freaked out, Miss Tolini fired. The sound of the shot was unimaginably loud.

“Jesus Christ!” Simon yelled.

Miss Tolini had missed and the bullet struck the stoop by the back door, shattering the stone on one side of it.

She saw that the thing had a doglike snout. It leapt up towards the window, digging claws into the outside wall of the house and climbing up towards the window she was in.

“Get your gun ready, Cletus!” she said.

“You do hunt nothing!” Skadooter screamed. “You can’t hit for shit!”

“I wanna see you do something!”

“I’m gonna go hide in the other room!”

The thing pulled itself up over the door and towards the window.

“Yo, go downstairs and get me anything silver!” Miss Tolini yelled.

Franks had drawn his Glock 17 as the thing climbed up and into the window. Its silhouette had green glowing eyes and a stooped posture. The body, though roughly bipedal, had a forward sloping and vaguely canine cast. The texture of the skin was an unpleasant rubberiness. It gibbered and meeped as it tried to claw and bite Miss Tolini. The claw tore at her clothing but didn’t hurt her but it bit her on the shoulder and clamped on.

“Can you shoot if it’s that close!?!” Skadooter screamed.

Miss Tolini dropped the rifle and pulled the dagger out of her jacket. She slashed at the thing, cutting it terribly but not killing it.

“Somebody shoot this thing!” she screamed.

“What the hell do you do for a living!?!” Skadooter screamed.

Then he rushed forward and punched the thing in the side of the head, which knocked it loose of Miss Tolini. It fell backwards towards the window but Miss Tolini grabbed it and pulled it into the room, falling back with the thing on top of her.

“Whose team you on!?!” Skadooter yelled at her.

The thing was not moving and appeared to be unconscious.

“I meant to knock it out the window!” Skadooter said. “What the hell you doing?”

“I want to see what this thing is,” she replied. “Kill it.”

“Huh?”

“Kill it. I want to see it.”

“Well … well yeah, I was gonna kill it. It fell out the window! What you doin’ bringing it back in?”

“I got this.”

She stabbed the thing in the head.

“What the hell is it?” Simon asked.

“Well, it’s dead now for sure,” Skadooter said. “But that counts as my kill, by the way. I killed it.”

“Whatever,” she said. “I don’t care.”

More gibbering and meeping came from outside.

“Shut the window!” she said.

The stink of the terrible thing filled the room. It smelled like nothing so much as an open grave. Simon closed the window and stationed himself at it.

“What the ****?” Miss Tolini said, looking at the stinking thing.

“There’s more,” Simon muttered. “There’s more out there. I think there’s more out there.”

“Yeah, probably,” she said.

The thing was definitely dead and she wanted to drop it into the cellar to see, if Miss Rodriguez turned into a zombie, if she would eat it.

“There’s more out there,” Simon said as she dragged it out of the room. “They’re not coming to the house, I don’t think.”

Miss Tolini rolled the corpse of the horrible thing down the stairs and then left it there. She returned to the room.

“We’ll check on it later,” she said when she returned.

“Hey, make sure you hit this one,” Skadooter said.

She glared at him.

“You wanna keep talking?” she said. “I’ll throw you out the window!”

“Why don’t you let me try to shoot that gun?” he said.

“Nope.”

“Well then shoot something.”

There were about three or four more out in the field.

“You shoot ‘em,” Skadooter told her. “If they get in the house, I’ll punch ‘em. All right, that’s the way we’re gonna do it.”

“Well fine,” she said.

She worked the action on the rifle.

“It’s gonna be loud again though,” she said.

Simon opened the window for her and she aimed at one of the things.

“Hey, why don’t you take some shots too?” Skadooter said to Franks when he noticed the Glock in his hand.

“I don’t think I can hit those things with this thing,” Franks said.

“Give it a shot,” Skadooter said. “She didn’t hit the first shot she made.”

“You gonna keep talking about that?” Miss Tolini said. “And I’m going to turn this on you.”

“Let me shoot the gun!” Skadooter said.

“I’m not going to waste the bullets,” Franks said.

Another of the things moved towards the house and Miss Tolini aimed at it. Instead of coming to the back door, the thing moved around the side of the house toward the front. A couple more were near the barn.

“Hey, go get that one,” she said to Franks. “It went around the house.”

“You crazy?” Franks asked.

“Little bit.”

He sighed.

“One of y’all wanna give me a gun?” Skadooter asked.

“Got get your rifle … or whatever you got in your room,” Miss Tolini said.

“My crossbow, man …” Skadooter said. “That ain’t as cool as what you got. Somebody give me a gun.”

“Oh my God, here,” she said, handing over the rifle. “I’ll get my crossbow.”

“Oh! I get the big gun!” Skadooter said, laughing.

“Now you be careful with this,” she said. “This thing’s powerful.”

She quickly showed him how to work the bolt action after every shot, that bracing it was best, and warned him not to shoot it from the hip or he’d break his pelvis. He went to the window and braced the weapon up against the sill. He aimed at one of the things and fired. The blast rocked the house but he missed.

“I think I hit it in the foot,” he said.

“Oh, you wanna hit something?” Miss Tolini said.

She left the room.

The two creatures outside headed for the window.

“Uh …” Skadooter said as he worked the action. “Hey. Hey John …”

“Uh-huh,” Franks said.

“You wanna back me up?”

He set up the next shot and fired again, missing once again. Then both of the creatures started running towards the house, waving their hands over their heads.

“Uh … John!” Skadooter said. “John! Shoot these things!”

The things ran very quickly.

“I’ll take the one on the right,” Franks said.

Both of them fired, Franks hitting with his second shot but the other bullets missing. The thing stumbled but didn’t fall as the horrors both made strange gibbering noises.

* * *

Miss Tolini grabbed her crossbow, quiver, and one of the magazines for the Accuracy International AW. Then she moved to the master bedroom in the front of the house. She peered out the window into the dark and could see the roof of the front porch. As she moved to put up the sash, she saw claws come up onto the roof and pulled the creature’s head and shoulders up to look towards the house.

She opened the sash about an inch, lined up the crossbow, and shot at the thing in the throat. It shrieked incoherently.

* * *

Franks took two more shots at the rushing things, hitting the one on the right in the hand. The thing didn’t fall but kept coming at them.

“Get ready John!” Skadooter said before firing again.

He blasted the one on the left, hitting it in the hand as well. Blood spewed from the wound. Franks fired twice more at the one on the right, hitting it once in the gut and missing once. Then the things climbed up the wall towards them.

* * *

The horrible thing on the porch roof rushed the window, crashing through the glass as Miss Tolini leapt out of the way. Shattered glass, muntins, and stiles shredded the horrible creature and scattered in to the room as the thing fell to the ground, a shattered piece of wood in the thing’s throat. The death rattle rolled from it and she drew her dagger and stabbed it in the head just in case.

“What luck,” she said with a laugh.

* * *

Skadooter dropped the rifle and punched the horrible thing in the head, hurting it badly.

“Shoot both of ‘em!” Skadooter said.

Franks fired twice, the first bullet striking the thing on the right in the chest. It fell backwards out of the window with a shudder. The second bullet missed. The second thing tried to claw and bite Skadooter but the athlete was too fast, dodging out of the way.

“Shoot it again!” he cried. “Get off of me you─”

He punched the thing in the head, merely clipping it in the chin. Then Franks fired twice more, the second bullet hitting the thing in the crotch and it fell back without a sound, crashing to the ground below.

They looked out of the window and saw more of the things in the fields. They were not getting any closer to the house. Miss Tolini walked in.

“How you guys doing?” she asked.

Some ichor stained her clothing from when the thing had bled after crashing through the window. Skadooter picked up the rifle.

“Can I have this?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Please!”

“That’s my personal gun.”

“Please!”

“No.”

“Aw. I hit one though. Didn’t I John?”

“He did,” Franks said.

“What are those things?” Simon asked. “What are they?”

“Where the hell were you the whole time!?!” Skadooter asked.

“I didn’t wanna hit you!”

“With what?”

Simon showed him the over-under.

“You had that the whole time and didn’t help us!?!” Skadooter asked.

“I don’t shoot at people when monsters are in their face,” Simon said.

“All right.”

“If I shot Skadooter … You know how much money I won on that game you won?”

“How much?”

“A thousand dollars!”

“Nah-ha-ha-ha.”

“Yeah!”

“Sheeit!”

Skadooter looked at the man.

“So, since I saved you and your granny’s life … can I please smoke some of that stuff you was talkin’ about?” he said.

“Yeah yeah,” Simon said. “Are they coming any closer? We gotta - we gotta keep an eye on things.”

“I think we’re safe for now. C’mon now.”

“All right.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” Franks said.

“I mean, I was basically─” Skadooter said.

“It ain’t great but all right,” Simon said.

“I got this,” Miss Tolini said, brandishing her crossbow.

“I mean I was basically high when I was shootin’ ‘em anyway!” Skadooter said. “I’m high all the time!”

They tried out the marijuana, which was okay and had few sticks and seeds. Simon kept watch through part of the night and Miss Tolini did as well.

* * *

The next morning, Miss Rodriguez was still semiconscious but had not become a zombie, much to their surprise. They decided to continue on towards the Outer Banks.

They examined the horrible thing that had been killed the night before. In addition to its canine-like face, it had hooved feet and stank. When Miss Rodriguez saw it, it reminded her of feral ghouls from the Fallout III video game. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1964-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Six
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition “The Keep on the Borderlands”]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1963-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-“The-Keep-on-the-Borderlands” Wed, 13 Apr 2016 19:26:14 GMT Monday, April 11, 2016

(After playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition “The Keep on the Borderlands” on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Appalachian State University Game Fest and LAN Party with Quentin Russell, Ashton LeBlanc, Katelyn Hogan, Mike Miller, and Daniel Houchins.)

The realm of mankind was narrow and constricted. Always the forces of chaos pressed upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasure. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounded them. Yet there were always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies – dwarves, elves, and Halflings – who rose above the common level and joined the battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. Bold adventurers from the Realm set off for the Borderlands to seek their fortune. It was those adventurers who, provided they survived the challenge, carried the battle to the enemy. Such adventurers met the forces of Chaos in a testing ground where only the fittest would return to relate the tale. Here, those individuals would become skilled in their profession, be it fighter or magic-user, cleric or thief. They would be tried in the fire of combat – those who returned, hardened and more fit. True, some few who did survive the process would turn from Law and good to serve the masters of Chaos, but most would remain faithful and ready to fight chaos wherever it threatened to infect the Realm.

The five who came down the road that fateful day were indeed members of that exceptional class, adventures who had journeyed to the Keep on the Borderlands in search of fame and fortune. Of course, they were inexperienced, but they had their skills and hearts that cried out for adventure. They had it in them to become great, but they still had to gain experience and knowledge and greater skill. There was much to learn but they were willing and eager to be about it! Each of them had come with everything which they could possibly be given to help them. But now they had to fend for themselves; their fate was in their hands, for better or worse.

Ahead, up the winding road, atop a sheer-walled mount of stone, loomed the great Keep. There, at one of civilization’s strongholds between good lands and bad, they would base themselves and equip themselves for forays against the wicked monsters who lurked in the wilds. Somewhere nearby, amid the dark forests and tangled fens, were the Caves of Chaos, where fell creatures lay in wait. All this they knew, but before they dared adventure into such regions, they had become acquainted with each other, for each of their lives would depend upon the ability of the others to cooperate against the common foe.

They had only met the day before and decided to travel together.

Sister Mad Martha was a solid woman who talked very loudly. She was a priestess of Dionysus and of average height. She had red hair and wore hide armor over her nun’s habit. She walked with a quarterstaff and had a whip on her belt. She drank beer out of her wineskin. She had been warned to beware of treachery from within her party. She suspected Dodan of such.

Alissa the White was a noble-born mage. She wore her platinum hair in a bun and was very tall, wearing robes and walking with a quarterstaff. She bore herself regally. She had heard rumors that a merchant, imprisoned in the Caves of Chaos, would reward his rescuers.

Arya was an elf ranger. She had long brown hair that she kept up and wore leather armor. She carried a bow and had a short sword on her belt and a dagger in her boot. She had heard that “bree-yark” was goblin-language for “We surrender.”

Dodan “Sticky-fingers” Swiftfoot was a Halfling. He had short, messy brown hair and was a rogue. He wore leather armor. A dagger and a sling hung from his belt. He had heard rumor that an elf had once disappeared across the marshes near the Keep.

Bran Frostgrim was the largest of them, a man standing six and a half feet tall. He was slim with long blonde hair and a thick blonde beard. He was fairly dirty, wore splint mail, and carried a spear. A long sword and a dagger were on his belt. He was a warrior, born of the north, whose family was all dead. He had heard the bugbears in the caves were afraid of dwarves.

They had each traveled many days, leaving the Realm and entering into the wilder area of the Borderlands. Farms and towns had become less frequent and travelers few. The road had climbed higher as they entered the forested and mountainous country. When they had seen the keep, they had taken the side road that led to it.

They moved up a narrow, rocky track. A sheer wall of natural stone was on their left, the path falling away to a steep cliff on the right. There was a small widening ahead, where the main gate to the keep was. The blue-clad men-at-arms who guarded the entrance shouted at them to give their names and state their business. All along the wall, they saw curious faces peeing down at them – eager to welcome new champions of Law but ready with crossbow and pole arm to give another sort of welcome to enemies.

“My name is Martha,” Mad Martha said. “And my business is … my business is … I need to know where I can refill my wineskin with some beer!”

The men looked at each other.

“What about the rest of you?” one called.

“I don’t know,” Mad Martha called back up. “I think they’re here for adventure!”

“That’s why I wasn’t talking to you!” the guard called. “What about the rest of you?”

“I’m here to make some money,” Dodan called.

“I’m here to fight,” Bran called.

The guards looked at each other.

“Who are you fighting?” one called.

“Anything I’m paid to fight,” he said grimly.

“It’s another mercenary,” one guard said.

“I heard there’s a merchant trapped in a cave,” Alissa said.

“I heard that too,” one of the men said to another.

“I’m just traveling,” Arya said.

The guards mumbled amongst themselves and when someone yelled to lower the drawbridge, it was dropped and the portcullis raised. The five went through the gatehouse and into a courtyard beyond.

They stopped in the paved entry yard when a man in plate mail carrying a shield and armed with a long sword bid them to halt. Next to the man was another who wore robes and had a great book. Flanking the two were two men-at-arms in plate mail. The center man gestured them to come to him.

“Excuse me, sir!” Mad Martha said. “Do you know where I can refill my wineskin with some beer?”

“Probably the merchant,” the corporal said. “But we need to know some information first.”

He asked their names and the scribe wrote them all down in his book. The armored man asked if they were merchants and when they claimed they weren’t, he waved them through, allowing them to finally enter the keep proper.

They walked south past stable and warehouse with parapets atop their roofs, then turned to follow the way westward. A taller smithy stood in the cobblestone street and they could hear the men working within. Small apartments stood against the wall of the Keep across from it. The way past that led to the west and to the north.

Mad Martha approached one of the residents walking by.

“Sir, do you perhaps know where I could refill my wineskin with quality ale?” she asked.

The man pointed vaguely to the west. She wandered that way with Arya and Alissa behind. They passed by two low buildings with wooden placards over the doors to their right. The first read “Provisioner” and the second “Trader.” They were well-provisioned and so walked past them and the houses that lined the other side of the street. On the corner was a larger building with a guard outside the door.

They finally came to another courtyard, this one with a large, gushing fountain in the center of the square. A few women drew clear water from the source. Two more buildings opened into the Fountain Square. Over one door was a sign that proclaimed it to be the “Traveler’s Inn” while a simple sign over the other listed it as a “Tavern.”

* * *

Bran and Dodan stopped at the smithy as the women had headed for the tavern. The building was two stories high and had a parapet on the top as well. It was directly connected to the warehouse. Wide doors opened in the front and forges, bellows, and other items were central in the place. A large blacksmith worked on horseshoes while two young men assisted him. Some weapons hung on the wall: a couple of swords, a mace, and a suit of chainmail were all present. Several spears also leaned against the wall. A narrow set of steps climbed to the second floor.

The big, burly blacksmith noticed them and stopped his work, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“What d’ y’ need, gentlemen?” he asked.

“Just appreciating your fine hardware,” Dodan said.

“Oh. I do my best.”

He and his boys went back to work. It was blisteringly hot in the building.

“So you have any shields?” Bran asked the blacksmith.

“Nope,” the man said. “All I’ve got is these weapons over here.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

They left the smithy and headed west, the same direction the women had gone.

* * *

The women’s throats were dusty and dry from the road so they opted for the tavern first. The smell of cooked meat, bread, and other good food greeted them as they entered the room and they found that in the early morning, they were alone. A man stood near several casks stacked up by the far wall and over him was a sign that listed the prices of food and drink in the place. The prices were quite high. Only Mad Martha and Alissa could read it. Arya was not familiar with any written language.

A mug of ale or a glass of wine cost an electrum piece, according to the posting, though small beer or bark tea was only a silver coin. The honey mead was a gold piece for a mug. The tavern had a decent variety of food with bread being only a copper coin a slice and pudding, soup, or fruit only a silver coin for a bowl. Both the stew and the hot pie were an electrum piece while the roast fowl coast a gold coin and the roast joint cost two gold coins.

“How much to refill this wineskin … skin of wine,” Mad Martha asked the man there. “Beer. Whatever this is.”

“Well, what do you want?” he asked.

“I want …”

“You want ale or small beer?”

“Beer.”

“A silver piece.”

“I’ll do that.”

The man filled the wineskin from one of the kegs until it started to overflow, stoppered it, and handed it back to her. She drank from it.

“Very good, very good,” she said, suddenly seeming to be a bit more sober, actually. “It’s quite a time since I’ve had any beer. The headache! Oh, the hangover! I’m good now. Let’s go.”

“I tell you what I like better is honey mead,” the barkeep said.

“See, I always prefer beer to a honey mead.”

“Ah.”

“Honey mead is too sweet. But beer just … beer just sits right in the stomach.”

“I would like a tea, good sir,” Alissa said.

“Of course,” the barkeep said.

He put the kettle over the fire. She asked him about the merchant.

“I don’t talk a lot unless my throat’s been quenched,” the barkeep said. “I love honey mead.”

She purchased a glass of honey mead for the man.

“Merchant, you say, merchant?” he said, taking a long sip. “I have heard of that merchant. I’m not sure which of the Caves of Chaos he’s in, but I’m certain he’s there. It’s said he’ll reward his rescuers. He’s a man. He’s a man who passed through here. I don’t remember much more about him. But you won’t find many men there, I think. Most are monsters.”

“Do you know who else would know more, possibly?” she asked.

“Oh, I couldn’t tell you. I really don’t know.”

“Which direction are the caves?”

“I don’t know exactly. I know they are to the east. The road continues on and the Caves of Chaos lie somewhere in that direction.”

“Good sir,” Mad Martha asked. “If this merchant is trapped in the cave, then how are we to know, how would anyone know, whether he would provide a reward for his rescuer? How do we know this isn’t a trap laid out by, say, vagabond bandits?”

“It could be,” the barkeep said. “I’m just telling you what I’ve heard. That’s just the story that’s going around town.”

Bran and Dodan entered the tavern.

“Do I smell tea?” Dodan said. “I’ll have some of that!”

“All right,” the barkeep said. “Come on in, gentlemen!”

He poured large cups of bark tea for Alissa and Dodan.

“I’ll have me a cup too,” Arya said. “And some fruit if that’s all right.”

“Of course!” the barkeep said.

He brought her a small bowl of apples, grapes, and a lemon after pouring her a large cup of bark tea. Bran asked for ale and the barkeep poured him a huge mug of ale, overflowing it a little to get rid of the head.

“Lightweight,” Bran said, looking at Mad Martha, who sipped from her wineskin.

“It’s not that I want the beer or the ale or the alcohol, it’s that I need the beer to function,” she said.

“I’m a man,” Bran said. “I have a stein!”

“Good sir, what have you got by way of meat?” Dodan asked.

He couldn’t make head or tail of the placard on the wall with prices.

“Well, we’ve got roast fowl and roast joint,” the barkeep said.

“How much is the roast joint?”

“The joint is two and a half gold.”

“How about the fowl?”

“Fowl’s a gold piece.”

“I’ll take one.”

“All right, I’ll get on it.”

He left the room for a moment and then returned with a chicken carcass. He put some spices on it and skewered it onto a metal pole and then put it over the fire, turning it occasionally. It would probably be some time before it was cooked. The smell of the chicken filled the place while Bran leaned back, feet on the table, and enjoyed his ale. They discussed going to get provisions and Alissa, Arya, and Mad Martha all left the place.

They entered the trader’s house first and found the place was filled with armor, weapons, and large quantity goods like salt, spices, cloth, rare wood, and the like. A small, slim man stood in the place along with two younger men. They could see the family resemblance between the three.

“Yes, can I help you?” the man asked.

“I’m looking for a lantern,” Alissa said.

The man told her she could find such things next door at the provisioner. He told her he mainly dealt with weapons. He noted if she found any furs he’d buy them from her.

“Furs?” Arya said.

“Furs,” he said. “I’m looking for furs.”

“Well, I happen to be a hunter.”

“I will pay you one and a half times what normal people would pay.”

She asked what kind of furs he wanted and he said he would take any kind of furs.

“The bigger the better,” he said. “Bear would be good. Something large. Larger the better. But I will pay for small as well. I just won’t pay as much. But I’ll give you a good price.”

“Would you happen to have any weapons of the more clerical persuasion?” Mad Martha asked.

The man had all kinds of weapons but she didn’t know how to use any of them.

“Well, my good sir, it would seem you have nothing that would interest me,” she said. “So, good day.”

“You too,” the man said.

They went to the provisioner next and found just about anything they wanted. The only weapons there were spears, daggers, arrows, and bolts. A few shields stood against the wall as well. He was also willing to purchase weapons and armor from them if they ever wished to sell. Mad Martha ended up buying a small, round shield.

* * *

Bran mentioned wanting to get a shield and the barkeep told him the provisioner sold them. He left and Dodan asked if he could come back for the chicken. The barkeep told him he could so he followed the man. They found the other three in the provisioner as Alissa purchased three torches, flint and steel, some hemp rope, and chalk. Bran wanted to buy a medium shield but didn’t have the gold coins. He thought the provisioner was gouging the prices.

They left the place. It was about midday.

“I feel like we should go exploring,” Mad Martha said.

“I agree,” Arya replied.

“Hang on,” Dodan said. “I’ve got to get my food.”

He ran to the tavern and got the roast chicken, returning with it. He found Alissa talking to one of the guards at the main gates who seemed quite friendly.

“Hey, how’s it going?” he said. “Whatcha need? Whatcha need?”

“I want to know where the Chaos Caves are,” she said.

“Oh yeah yeah!” the guard said. “There’s a bunch of different tribes of different types of monsters there. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”

He thought a moment.

“If you follow the road east, you’re going to see the marshes to the south,” he said. “They’re dangerous. They’re dangerous. Then the woods start closing in on the road. If you keep following the road until it curves to the north and you see the land rising to your left, the caves are back there in the woods somewhere. But be careful. It should be right there.”

Dodan stood and watched, eating his chicken.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to use a napkin,” Mad Martha said to him.

“I’m going to have to ask you to kiss my ass,” Dodan said.

“That’s your fetish, not mine,” she replied.

“Right, it is,” he said.

He used Arya’s sleeve to wipe his mouth. She was not pleased.

“What a disagreeable little man,” Mad Martha said of him.

The guard scurried off.

“What an interesting guard,” Arya said.

They went to the main gate and spoke to the corporal who called up for the guards to lower the drawbridge and open the portcullis. They left the Keep, going down to the main road, and heading east. To the south they saw what looked like swamps and a wide river that came close to the road before meandering away again. A grove of pine trees stood past the swamps, perhaps a quarter mile away. The woods came close to the road but then fell away again and they passed a tall, grassy hill to the right. Then the woods came close to the road on both sides as the road turned northward and the land rose steeply on both sides.

They turned to the left, heading back westward. It was dark under the boughs of the trees but they could soon see clear areas a few hundred yards to the right and ahead. To the left were simply dark woods.

“I say we go towards the clearing,” Mad Martha said. “That way we can get out of this accursed dark. I’m not a fan of the woods.”

“What dark?” Arya said.

Her keen Elvin senses allowed her to see clearly in the gloom of the forest.

“We’re going to a cave and she doesn’t like the dark,” Alissa muttered.

“I didn’t say I was happy with going to the cave,” Mad Martha said. “I say we go towards the clearing.”

“We can take a look, but if we don’t find anything, we’ll go elsewhere,” Arya said.

Mad Martha led them to the clearing to the right. They could just make out the road down the hill. Dodan finished off the last of his chicken, tossing the bones behind him. Bran glared at him for not sharing. He was so hungry.

The forest they had been passing through had been getting more dense, tangled, and gloomier. The thick, twisted tree trunks, unnaturally misshapen limbs, writhing roots, clutching and grasping thorns and briars all seemed to warn and ward them off, but they forced and hacked their way through regardless.

The strange growth suddenly ended. They stepped out of the thicket into a ravine-like area. The walls rose rather steeply to either side to a height of about 100 feet or so. Dark streaked rock mingled with the earth. Clumps of trees grew here and there, both on the floor of the ravine and up the sloping walls of the canyon. The opening they stood in was about 200 feet wide and the ravine ran at least 400 feet west to where the far end rose in a steep slope. Here and there, at varying heights on all sides of the ravine, they could see the black mouths of cave-like openings in the rock walls. The sunlight was dim, the air dank, there was an oppressive feeling there – as if something evil was watching and waiting to pounce upon them. There were bare, dead trees here and there, and upon one, a vulture perched and gazed hungrily at them. A flock of ravens rose croaking from the ground, the beat of their wings and their cries magnified by the terrain to sound loud and horrible. Amongst the litter of rubble, boulders, and dead wood scattered about on the ravine floor, they could see bits of gleaming ivory and white – closer inspection revealed they were bones and skulls of men, animals, and other things ...

They knew that they had certainly discovered the Caves of Chaos.

There were numerous caves and some of the small thickets were too dense to see through. They guessed there might even be more caves amongst those copses.

“Let’s turn around,” Mad Martha said. “I feel there is other adventuring to be done.”

She made a quick supplication to Dionysus to keep her alive. Dodan drew his dagger and spun it in his hand. Bran was tempted to toss his spear at the vulture.

“Let’s go to the first,” Arya said.

“Who wants to go in first because it’s certainly not going to be me,” Mad Martha said.

Bran gave her a shove.

“Everyone goes to the first,” Dodan said. “I say we go to the middle caves. Everybody’s going to go to the first and the last. We want unspoiled territory.”

“Maybe everyone thinks like you,” Arya said. “They all go to the middle.”

“They’re not as smart as me!” Dodan said.

Alissa looked for footprints and saw all kinds of tracks in the area.

“We’re looking for the merchant,” she said.

“Also, why would we want to go to the unspoiled caves?” Mad Martha said. “That would mean there are things that are fresh that could freshly kill us, right?”

“Thinking you should take a fresh swig of that beer, love,” Dodan said.

“Maybe. I. Will. But not because you told me to. First of all, I took an oath: Dionysus is the only man for me.”

Arya stuck out her tongue and made a gagging motion.

“Whomever wants to go first can go first,” Mad Martha said. “I’ll stick to the back.”

“By all means, I am a gentleman, so ladies first,” Bran said.

“No, thank you,” Mad Martha said. “How about age before beauty?”

Arya started walking towards the nearest cave at the bottom of the slope to their left.

“I’m thirty!” Dodan said.

“I’m only 16, thank you very much,” Mad Martha said.

Alissa started a random count to pick a cave and then followed Arya towards the second cave on the left.

“Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa,” Mad Martha said. “What are you all doing? Why are you choosing to go into different caves? We should all go into one.”

“I chose this one first,” Arya said.

“I’ll follow you,” Mad Martha said, running to catch up to the elf. “You seem decisive.”

I got the cleric, Arya thought.

Dodan and Bran followed them as well, Bran shaking his head. Alissa saw they were all heading for the first cave so joined them.

They reached the cave and stopped to discuss their marching order. Alissa noted they should not put the ranged people in the front. She moved towards the back of the party. Arya argued she was going in first and Dodan said he’d go in second. The cave mouth was wide enough they could walk two abreast if they wanted but they went single file. Arya went first, followed by Dodan, then Mad Martha and Alissa, with Bran in the rear. They all drew their weapons.

The cave was dark with only a little light coming in from the entrance. Alissa lit a torch. The corridor split, going three directions some 30 feet ahead of them.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Mad Martha said.

Dodan squinted in the hope of his eyes not getting too used to the torchlight.

The natural cave quickly turned into worked stone tunnels.

“Well, this certainly bodes ill,” Mad Martha said.

Dodan stopped the group.

“All right, we need to think about this strategically,” he said.

Arya continued walking forward but he grabbed her by her belt. She nearly tripped but didn’t fall.

“I think we should put the heavy hitters up front,” Dodan went on. “The people with armor.”

“So, what if we have a rear attack?” Arya asked. “Then what?”

“We’ve just walked through the tunnel. Presumably, there’s not much behind us.”

“From what I can see, there’s three paths up there.”

“Well with three paths, that means …” Mad Martha said.

“We’re more likely to walk into trouble than to have trouble walk into us,” Dodan said.

“All right,” Arya said.

“Here’s the thing,” Mad Martha said. “Either way … or either triple way, I don’t know … we’re probably heading into almost certain danger, so … as long as someone else is getting hit I’m fine. If someone needs healing, I’ll heal them, but if I have to get hit, we’re going to have some trouble.”

“So, here’s what I propose,” Dodan said, ignoring them. “I propose the fighter and the cleric up front.”

“How about no,” Mad Martha said.

“I agree,” Arya said.

As they discussed it, several goblins walked into the intersection ahead.

“I told ya!” Dodan said.

“Be quiet; we’ve attracted danger,” Arya said.

The goblins stopped when they saw the adventurers.

“Bree-yark!” some of them yelled as they rushed forward.

They cried out in their own language and only Alissa understood they were saying to kill the intruders. Two of them attacked Arya with short swords but weren’t able to hurt her. The other attacked Dodan but missed as well. Mad Martha took a deep breath.

“Woooo!” she screamed. “Let’s party!”

She swung her quarterstaff at the goblin attacking Dodan, hitting it in the head.

“Woo, mother****er!” she cried out again. “This is how we roll with Dionysus!”

Dodan stabbed the creature in the side and it went down with a shriek. Bran rushed forward with his spear but slipped on the blood of the goblin who had just fallen and crashed to the ground, stunned. Arya, in the front ranks, dropped her bow and drew her short sword, swinging it wildly at the goblins. The goblins rushed forward, one of them climbing over Bran’s body and making his way towards Alissa, but tripping over the body of his companion. A second goblin climbed over Bran and managed to get over the bleeding goblin and then skipped over the goblin who had just fallen. Then it stabbed Alissa with its short sword and she went down, the torch dropping beside her. Another goblin leapt atop Bran’s prone form and stabbed Dodan.

Dodan dropped his dagger and took out his sling, whipping it over his head. The bullet flew off into the caves, missing completely. Arya slashed at one of the goblins but the blade struck the goblin’s leather armor and trembled terrible, dropping from her hand.

“All right, you ****ers!” Mad Martha yelled. “Let’s get this shit going! Get set to get dead mother****ers!”

She swung for the goblin’s head but he ducked. On the backswing, she broke his leg and the goblin fell without a sound, lying on Bran’s body.

“Let’s go, mother****ers!” she screamed in a deep voice.

She turned towards the goblin who had cut down Alissa and swung at it but missed. One of the goblins Arya fought stabbed her, hurting her badly. The one near Mad Martha was unable to penetrate her armor.

“I am the phenom!” she screamed. “I am the wrecker!”

Dodan moved to his right, climbing onto Bran, and fired another lead bullet from his sling at the goblin that had just stabbed Arya. The bullet missed, zipping down the corridor. Arya drew the dagger from her boot and tried to stab one of the goblins but only nicked his armor. Dodan’s next bullet struck one of the goblin’s in the head. He went down like tenpins.

Nice, Arya thought.

In the back of the party, Mad Martha swung and missed again, grunting at shrieking. The goblin turned and ran.

“You think that you can get away mother****er!” She shrieked as it turned. “This is─”

She swung, slamming the goblin in the back of the head and it went down.

“You think you can get away!” she cried. “No! This is Martha’s town! You’re in my world now, *****!”

Then the goblin who slipped and fell leapt back to his feet, picking his sword up.

“What?” Mad Martha shrieked. “You wanna come to my world!?! My town!?!”

There were only two goblins left. They fought fiercely but couldn’t hurt the adventurers. Mad Martha had progressed past speech and was merely groaning angrily. She struck the goblin in the side but didn’t seem to hurt it. Then Dodan shot him in the head with a sling bullet and down he went. The lone remaining goblin tried to stab Arya unsuccessfully. She had no better luck injuring it.

Bran started coming around. He shook his head groggily.

Arya stabbed at the goblin again without luck, the blow skittering off his leather armor. Mad Martha strode forward, pushing her way to the last goblin. She swung her staff but missed.

“Bree-yark!” the goblin yelled as he turned and ran away.

“You think you can run?” Mad Martha yelled.

She struck the goblin as he fled, heading for the left. Bran finally stood up as Mad Martha screamed. She went to the back of the group and cast a cure light wounds spell on Alissa. Then she took a sip of beer.

“Wow,” she said. “Wow. That was … what’s with all these goblins around. Oh! I did this, didn’t I?”

Arya scooped up her sword and bow and ran into the cave after the goblin. The corridor curved off and there was a side corridor that dead-ended but the goblin continued on into a small room at the end of the main passage. She slowed as she approached the chamber, moving into the side corridor and hiding there. She thought she heard several other goblins in the room, all of them speaking in their own language. She turned and ran back to the entrance.

Dodan and Bran were searching the goblins on the ground. Each were able to get a few silver coins. Dodan noticed two larger bags in the intersection the goblins had dropped before they’d charged the party. Mad Martha started ripping off bits of cloth and tying up the unconscious goblins.

Arya ran back to the others.

“Goblins. Room. Back there. A lot!” she said.

Several of them heard the slapping of feet coming down the corridor. Dodan ran to the intersection, followed quickly by Arya, and they grabbed the two sacks. They saw the goblins coming so they ran. Dodan snatched up one of their short swords as he ran by.

“Bree-yark!” came a shout from behind them as the goblins ran after them.

They all fled the cave, running out into the sunshine and away from the Caves of Chaos. As they ran back into the woods, a half dozen goblins came out of the cave. They shouted in goblin and tried to shield their eyes from the sunlight as it obviously pained them.

Mad Martha turned.

“Does anyone know goblin here?” she called.

“I know goblin,” Alissa said.

“Do you know the word for ‘die’ in goblin?”

She told her the word. Mad Martha cast a command spell and yelled the word. One of the goblins fell to the ground. The other goblins slowed as they were certain she had just killed one of their number.

Then the party all ran away, slowing so Dodan could keep up with them. Arya yelled for someone to pick Dodan up. Bran changed course and moved towards him to pick him up.

“No no!” Dodan called. “We’re fine. We can outrun them!”

Bran shrugged and they fled back to the woods. They walked back to the Keep, examining the two bags as they went. Each proved to be filled with goblin food. Though it wasn’t the best food they’d ever seen, it was not poisonous and quite edible. Arya handed the food in the bag to Dodan.

They were let back into the Keep, battered and bloody. Bran was covered in blood and the guards seemed quite concerned for him.

“It’s not mine,” he grunted.

Arya wanted to find a chapel for healing but wasn’t sure where one might be. There was a street they hadn’t explored and she saw a large building with a peaked roof that might be a chapel. Alissa and Dodan went with her. Meanwhile, Mad Martha and Bran cleaned themselves in the fountain in the square. The bloody water quickly grew clear again and they guessed it was some kind of natural flowing spring.

* * *

The other three, still bloody and beaten from the battle, headed up the other street. They passed a large, two-story building that appeared to be a merchant’s guild of some sort. Just past it was a large chapel. They went into the peaked-roof building. The altar was located at the far end with a stained glass window above it. An offering box was fastened atop a heavy pedestal in the far corner to the right. A single, old man in robes was there.

“Hello, is there a healer?” Arya called.

The old man walked over to them. He carried a staff with a snake head upon it.

“I am the Curate,” he said. “How can I help you?”

“I have a wound,” she said.

“Oh, do you?”

“Yes.”

“Oh dear. Oh dear. I usually don’t use healing on outsiders, only on guards and other people who live in the keep. But, perhaps for a donation.”

He looked towards the box in the corner. She went over and dropped a gold coin into the box.

“Well well well well,” he said.

He cast a cure light wounds spell upon the young woman. She was not completely healed but was better than before.

“That’s fine,” the priest said. “What happened to you good folk. What about this little fellow? He’s all covered in blood as well.”

Arya looked down and was surprised to see Dodan. She hadn’t realized he’d accompanied them.

“I could use some healing too,” he said.

“As you’re not a member of the keep …” the Curate said.

“I think a gold covers two people,” Dodan said.

The man just looked at him and growled slightly.

“Yeah, gold doesn’t go as far as it used to,” the Curate said.

Dodan put a coin into the box and the man cast a healing spell upon the Halfling.

Alissa headed off while Arya talked to the man.

“We are adventurers,” she said. “We were just wondering, since we go out, if there’s anything you might want from the outside.”

“No no no,” the Curate said. “I’m fairly well stocked. I have to tell you though, to beware. There’s a priest in this town, who we all thought had died some time ago, but came back. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust him, I tell you.”

“Who is this?”

“He’s a priest. He just calls himself ‘The Priest.’” He related where the man lived. “But you cannot trust him! He’s not to be trusted. As I said, he went away with adventures who claimed that he had betrayed them, but fled. Then he came back. I don’t know whether the adventurers were lying or not.”

Meanwhile, Dodan crept to the offering box and found no lock or latch upon it. He opened it quietly and reached in, snatching out the two gold coins and a handful of others that were already in the box. He pocketed everything and then walked away as if he had been admiring the place.

“Is there anything you want us to do with this priest?” Arya asked.

“Just don’t trust him!” the Curate said. “If he comes to you and he wants to join your party, don’t trust him.”

“Gotcha. Thank you very much.”

She left the building as well, quickly catching up to Dodan, who was counting coins. He’d gotten the gold, several copper coins and several silver coins.

“I didn’t like that priest very much,” Arya said.

“Charging that much for healing,” Dodan said. “Hmph.”

“Well, he didn’t charge but he did expect payment to the church.”

“Oh, how naïve. You think that money doesn’t go straight into his pocket?”

* * *

Alissa had returned to the Merchant’s Guild. The door opened into a hallway with two desks behind a railing. A couple of men sat at them, writing in ledgers with quills.

“Can we help you?” one of them asked.

“I’m part of a group of adventurers and I was wondering if you needed anything done?” she said.

“No, we usually just deal with merchants who come through. This is the merchant’s guild so merchants can stay here after they’ve paid a tithe on their goods. If you’re not a merchant though …”

“Did you hear anything about the merchant that’s trapped in the caves?”

“Oh! I haven’t heard anything about it. Why? Wait! Are you here to ask for ransom!?! Is that what you’re doing here? This lady here is asking for ransom for the merchant that went missing! I’m going to call the guards!”

The other man seemed confused. Alissa left the building quickly.

“Hey!” the man yelled after her. “Come back here!”

* * *

As they approached the merchant’s guild, Arya and Dodan argued about getting her gold back.

“I didn’t get any gold,” Dodan said. “I got my gold.”

“How much did you get,” Arya asked him.

“I only got one gold,” he lied.

She looked at him.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“That’s good for you,” he said.

She continued to glare at him.

“My gold,” she said.

“No.”

“I knew I should never trust Halflings!”

She increased her pace and outdistanced him quickly. She passed the merchant’s guild and Alissa walked out. Someone inside was yelling at her as she closed the door behind her.

“I helped you out!” she said to Dodan, who caught up.

He handed her five silver coins.

“I want my gold!” she muttered. “Where’s the other five?”

“We’ll see,” he said.

They found Bran and Mad Martha in the square and all of them went to the Traveler’s Inn. The building was a long, low structure and they learned from the innkeeper there were five private rooms and a large common room with room for a dozen. The private rooms cost a gold piece per night while sleeping in the common room was a silver piece per night. Bran, Dodan, and Mad Martha slept in the common room while Arya and Alissa got private rooms.

The common room had cots with straw ticks and space for each person’s gear. The private rooms had feather beds, a wardrobe, a nightstand with a pitcher and bowl, chamber pot, and even a window. They had an inexpensive meal for dinner that night and then slept the sleep of the righteous

* * *

As they ate gruel at the tavern the next morning, they discussed what to do. Alissa was of the opinion they should go to the second cave. Bran thought if there were a lot of goblins in there, they must have been in there for a reason. He wanted to explore that first cave further, but pick a different route. Mad Martha was fine with either. She had plenty of beer so she felt she’d be okay again. Arya told them what she’d seen. Mad Martha reminded everyone that they hadn’t necessarily killed the goblins they’d fought, only knocked them out. Bran pointed out they knew what was in the cave and so they could be more prepared.

“Now that there’s an enemy we know, we’re not going to go into an unknown, necessarily,” he said. “We actually know what’s in there now. That’s why I suggest going to the same cave.”

“I’m more prepped for combat today,” Mad Martha said.

A few of the locals were also in the tavern and they overheard some of them talking. Mad Martha heard tribes of different creatures lived in different caves and there was talk of the new party of adventurers going into the caves. Alissa heard a magic wand was lost in the cave area. Arya overheard that the big dog men lived very high in the caves. Dodan heard that “Bree-yark” was goblin for “We surrender.” He told that person he was full of shit.

“What?” the man replied. “I heard that from my brother’s cousin’s nephew’s uncle!”

“I heard it from a goblin’s mouth as he was trying to attack me,” Dodan said.

“Whoa.”

Alissa, who spoke goblin-speak, realized “bree-yark” was essentially a goblin call for help.

They shared their rumors with each other. No one was sure what dog men were but Dodan thought it sounded dangerous. Arya advised they not go to the higher levels.

“Well, danger usually means more loot,” he pointed out.

“Usually, but I don’t think I want to die,” she said.

“Do you have to be so greedy, little man?” Mad Martha said.

“We nearly lost our wizard,” Arya said.

“Yes,” Dodan answered the priestess.

“I’d like to be part of the fight the next time,” Bran said.

“Next time I’d like not to be part of the fight,” Mad Martha said. “That is very …”

“You didn’t sound like it when you were in it,” Dodan said.

She just looked at him.

“Look, that’s not … that’s not the me that you think I am,” she said.

Arya still favored her injury.

“I say we gotta search for this merchant,” Dodan said. “Sounds like he could give us a right reward.”

“I say go back to the cave,” Bran said. “I want some revenge.”

“You just want to kill goblins.”

“I still say go back to the cave in a different route.”

“And prove you’re not useless.”

“I will stab you.”

“You won’t catch me.”

“I can throw a spear far and fast.”

“I just feel we’d miss something if we don’t go back,” Arya said.

“Fine, let’s go back to the cave,” Mad Martha said.

They left the Keep once again and walked to the forest. They soon found themselves at the Caves of Chaos. As they looked into the ravine from the edge of the woods, Mad Martha said they should go in more stealthy this time and with a better plan.

“This time, I say you send me in first,” Dodan said.

“But can you see in the dark?” Mad Martha said.

“I can,” Arya said.

“I say we send her in first,” Mad Martha said.

“I agree,” Arya said.

“I agree,” Bran said.

“What does everybody know about goblins?” Dodan asked.

“We know ‘bree-yark’ doesn’t mean ‘I surrender,’” Arya said.

The Halfling laughed.

They talked about goblins. Dodan knew goblins could see in the dark. Arya knew that individually, goblins were not very strong, but in groups they could rush and be very dangerous. Alissa knew some goblin tribes had shamans though they were usually not nearly as powerful or prevalent as wizards. Mad Martha told them there had been a few famous goblins in history, though none were known to be from the borderlands where they were presently standing. Bran told them he’d heard if you hit a goblin with a gold brick, it would immediately become your slave and give the brick back.

Mad Martha started to talk more and more aggressively as they looked down on the ravine.

“All right, guys,” she said. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna break some skulls. Who’s with me? Team on three! One! Two! Three!”

Bran slapped her when she said “Three!” The woman looked at him.

“The **** did you just do!?!” she shrieked.

Dodan laughed and the Mad Martha punched Bran solidly in the face, knocking him backwards but not off his feet. She growled at the man.

“You come after the Skullcrusher, you are gonna get crushed!” she yelled at him as Dodan laughed and Arya giggled. “Don’t **** with the Skullcrusher! You ****ing with me, little man!?!”

Bran glared at her. He would remember this.

They went down to the cave once again. Mad Martha was ready to fight, breathing heavily and grunting and groaning.

“Just go!” she said. “Bring ‘em to us!”

Mad Martha waited in the entrance while Alissa and Bran stood just outside the cave.

Arya went in with Dodan holding onto the back of her belt. Mad Martha leant her hooded lantern to Dodan and he lit it and hooded it and held it down. The two of them crept into the cave and down the corridor to the left, heading for the room where she’d heard the goblins before. She heard more goblins there and Arya peeked into the pitch black room. She spotted a half dozen goblins within. A barrel filled with spears was also in the room and there was another passage on the far side. Three goblins watched in either direction. One of them spotted her as she peeked in. He started jabbering and sounded angry.

Dodan flung open the shutter on the lantern and light flooded the room. The goblins squinted and jabbered.

“Get in here!” Dodan yelled.

Arya drew her bow and nocked an arrow as Dodan took out his dagger. He rushed into the room and stabbed at one of the goblins.

* * *

The others at the cave’s entrance heard the cry. Alissa quickly took out flint and steel and lit a torch. Mad Martha cast a shillelagh spell on her staff and then rushed into the caves as best she could in the dark.

* * *



Mad Martha ran into the room with a shriek, holding a magical staff in her hands. Bran followed close behind her, crashing through the corridors. The goblins tried to stab them with their spears as he ran into the room, one of them cutting Mad Martha. Two other goblins backed away from the fray as Bran ran one of the goblins through with his spear. The horrible creature died screaming, blood spewing everywhere. Arya moved into the corner of the room and shot a goblin on the far side. With a cry, it fell to the ground.

Dodan tried, unsuccessfully, to stab the goblin in front of him. The little creature laughed at his feeble attempts. The other goblin in the back of the room ran away, disappearing around the corridor.

“Y’all handle these!” Arya said, running after him.

“You killed my brother!” one of the goblins yelled in his own tongue.

Only Alissa, still outside the cave and just picking up her torch, understood him.

He moved to Bran and stabbed him with his spear. The other goblins missed. Alissa arrived behind the others, torch in hand. She chanted and a magic missile flew from her hand and struck the goblin Dodan was fighting.

* * *

Arya ran around the corner and up the steps beyond. She mounted a landing and went up another short flight of stairs before she caught up with the goblin. She tried to club him with her bow but he heard her coming and ducked. She saw a door at the end of the corridor some 20 feet away. The goblin said something and readied his spear.

* * *

Bran stabbed one of the goblins but didn’t kill it. It grunted and groaned and said something in its own language. Only Alissa understood the surprised goblin had said “I’m not dead yet.”

Mad Martha slammed a goblin with her enchanted staff and sent the beast flying across the room to crash in the corner. Dodan slipped behind the goblin fighting Bra, stabbing the creature in the back and twisting the blade. With a terrible cry, it dropped to the ground.

Both Alissa and Mad Martha took off down the corridor after Arya, tearing up the steps and attacking the goblin they found at the top.

“Surrender!” Alissa called in goblin tongue.

But it was too late. Mad Martha reached the goblin at the same time and brought her staff down on the creature’s head. It went down.

“We need to ask it questions!” Alissa said.

“**** that!” Mad Martha replies.

She smashed the thing’s skull.

* * *

Back in the little guard room, Dodan cut the throat of the goblin he’d just taken down. As he started killing all of the goblins, Bran began looting the bodies. They finished off killing all five and got everything of value off the bodies, including a good number of copper and silver coins.

Now that they had time to look around more carefully, they saw there was a barrel of spears, a small table, two benches, and a keg of water in the room.

* * *

Mad Martha ripped open the goblin’s throat and tasted the blood. She smeared it on her face, splashing it all over herself. Then she bit into the goblin’s flesh and ate of it. It did not taste good.

“It’s delicious!” she said. “Takes like chicken.”

Arya moved to the door. It looked typical with a latch and keyhole. She put her hand on the latch and pressed down. There was no resistance. Unless it was barred, she guessed it was not locked. Alissa moved up beside her, torch in hand.

Mad Martha ripped the arm off the goblin to take with her, tucking it into her belt.

“We should probably wait,” Alissa said.

Arya nodded and let go of the latch slowly and without a sound. Mad Martha stood up as Bran and Dodan came up the stairs.

“How’s it going, Bran?” she muttered angrily.

Dodan shuttered the lantern.

“I’m going to kill her the first chance I get,” Bran whispered to the Halfling.

“That might not be a bad idea,” Dodan replied.

Mad Martha walked towards the door with purpose as several of them said she should take a swig from her wineskin.

“**** that!” she said.

As she passed Alissa and Arya, she rushed the door, slamming into it. Arya backed into the corner to the left. Alissa backed to the stop of the stairs where Bran and Dodan stood, ready to run. Mad Martha struck the door, breaking it down and rushing into the room. The light from Alissa’s torch revealed a large room filled with hobgoblin males, females, and cubs. There were at least five males, almost double that number of females, and a few cubs. It appeared to be a common room where a good portion of the tribe probably lived. There were heaps of cloth and skins in the room for beds, some odds and ends of furniture, a small barrel, buckets, and the like.

Mad Martha charged ahead and struck one of the hobgoblins with her staff. It obviously hurt the creature but it didn’t fall. The creatures were much bigger than the goblins.

“Intruders!” one of them yelled in goblin-speak. “Kill them! Kill them all!”

Only Alissa understood though the tone of voice gave the others a hint it was not good. She turned and ran away, taking her torch and the light with her. Arya reached into the room and pulled the door closed and then followed Alissa. Bran felt his way in the dark, being careful of the steps, as he followed as best he could in pitch blackness. Then light erupted behind him as Dodan opened the lantern and ran down the steps to the goblin room. He started pulling spears out of the barrel and snapping off the spearheads. Bran went by him, heading for the exit.

* * *

Mad Martha swung her staff, still glowing with the residual energy of her last spell, at the same hobgoblin she’d struck before but the creature easily ducked aside. Then four of the males, each of them armed with a long sword, attacked her while the fifth went to the door and opened it. The females, meanwhile, picked up clubs and headed her way. One of the males stabbed her but barely hurt her.

“You call that a hit?” she screamed. “I call that a tap!”

Others attacked her but were unable to hurt her. She cast a command spell at one of the children, yelling “Die” in the goblin tongue. The child fell to the ground. The hobgoblin females wailed in terror.

* * *

Bran saw the light of Dodan’s lantern behind him as he stumbled down the corridor towards the entrance, bumping into Arya and making it to the cave entrance just behind her. Dodan, having heard the door open to the hobgoblin area, fled the guard room as well.

* * *

Mad Martha used her shield to good effect, blocking the blows of the hobgoblins for a short time. Then another one stabbed her in the chest. She breathed heavily before falling flat on her back, unconscious.

* * *

They stopped at the entrance of the cave for a moment and then moved to the woods near the edge of the ravine. After a short time, a hobgoblin came out of the cave and looked around before going back and disappearing into the darkness.

“Well, it’s a pity all that gold got left in there,” Dodan said.

They discussed what to do next. Arya thought they should enter the cave again but go straight. She knew what was up the steps and didn’t want anything to do with it. Dodan noted they had explored and it had almost killed them twice, and it did kill one of them.

“Just don’t go upstairs,” Arya said.

“They’re probably alert and waiting there at the intersection, if anything,” Dodan said.

“I still say cave two,” Alissa said.

“Do you think they’d think we’d come right back after being chased out?” Bran asked.

“Yeah,” Dodan said. “They might think we’re coming back for our friend.”

They discussed which cave to enter next.

“Eeny-meeny-miny-mo has never failed me,” Alissa said.

They ended up going to the second cave, a little west of the first they entered. The place had a strong, sour odor and appeared to be a natural cave, cut in two by a natural stone wall. There appeared to be a huge bear sprawled asleep on the far side of the cave to the right. Arya, in the lead, took a step into the cave and peeked into the other section. Sitting there was an ogre. It looked her way with his tiny, evil eyes.

“Oh hi,” she said. “Bye. Sorry to disturb you, sir.”

The ogre roared and Arya stepped back, as did the rest of them. The ogre came to the entrance of the cave and they all ran away, fleeing from the terrible beast. Dodan considered attacking it but ran like the rest. The creature shook its fist at them and went back into the cave.

The party regrouped at the edge of the forest and decided to try the third cave, hidden under the bows of a copse of trees. As soon as they got to the entrance, they smelled a horrible stench coming from the place. Arya just shook her head and walked away towards the last cave on the lowest level of the ravine.

They went under the boughs of another terribly wicked-looking copse of trees. The cave quickly gave way to worked stone, much as it had in the goblin caves. Arya and Dodan led the way with Alissa and Bran behind them. The initial tunnel went about 30 feet before splitting to the left and right. The two in the front stepped into the intersection. To the left, it went around a corner, possibly into a room. To the right, it disappeared into darkness, but in a small niche near the entrance were a group of tiny humanoids with brown, scaly skin and dog-like faces.

A half-dozen kobolds were in the tiny guard room. The two groups spotted each other.

* * *

Mad Martha awoke and found herself bound hand and foot, completely tied up. She was at the bottom of a pit with two hobgoblin guards standing over her. She knew they were terrified of her and she had them exactly where she wanted them. She tried to break free of the ropes without luck.

“We are sending for ransom to the keep,” one of the hobgoblins said in broken common.

She tried to bite at the creature without effect. Two climbed down into the pit and beat her into unconsciousness.

* * *

Arya shot at one of the kobolds but missed completely, her arrow clattering into the tunnel. Dodan fired his sling, just missing as well. The kobolds rushed out of the niche but then stopped and yelled at the adventurers. Only Alissa understood they were yelling taunts at them.

“C’mon cowards, we’ll rip your spleens out!” one shouted.

“We’ll bite your kneecaps off!” another yelled.

“We’ll wreck you!”

“Come and get us you idiots!”

“You … are stupid humans and do not know how to fight!”

Bran ran forward with his spear and suddenly the floor in the intersection collapsed under him, dropping him into a 10-foot deep pit. The floor appeared to have been made of some kind of light material that couldn’t hold his weight. The kobolds laughed uproariously and continued taunting.

Alissa moved forward and tossed one end of her rope down the hole. She ran back out the cave and tied the other side to one of the trees in the copse outside the cave. Dodan fired another bullet at the taunting kobolds, hitting one in the head. It went down.

“*****!” Arya said with a grin.

“C’mon!” Alissa heard the kobolds taunting. “Cross it. That’s the only spot! That’s the only spot!”

Bran climbed up out of the pit, pulling himself up onto solid ground again. Arya fired another arrow, realizing the ground under her was not very solid. She almost dropped her bow as she fired and the arrow skewed around but she managed to keep her hand on the bow. She figured it was from the shaky floor.

Dodan started to feel around on the floor and realized the 10-foot by 10-foot area in the intersection was all part of a trap. The entire floor there was shaky, made of weak wood covered by painted linen of some kind. The whole spot was unstable. Arya was standing on it while Dodan was on the edge of it. He told everyone about it as quickly as possible.

The kobolds continued taunting them. Alissa understood they were telling them to come across the floor as they would be fine. Arya stepped back off the floor and then shot one of the kobolds, which dropped to the ground with a squeal. Alissa walked over towards Arya, crossing the trapped floor. She crashed through the floor but Arya grabbed her as she started to fall and pulled her to safety.

Bran leapt over the hole, landing in front of the kobolds. He charged at them with a battle cry.

“No this time!” he called.

He tried to stab one with his spear but the kobold leapt out of the way as the rest converged on him. One climbed over a dead body, flanking him. Two of them stabbed the man while the other missed. Another kobold was holding back from the battle. Arya carefully walked across the pit, taking her time. It collapsed underneath her and she fell, hurting herself badly. She shook her head and cursed.

Bran dropped his spear to the floor and drew his longsword, cutting one of the kobolds down. Dodan tucked his sling away and drew his dagger, jumping over the corner of the pit. He landed next to the kobold who gave him a double take. He tried to stab the kobold who turned towards him. Arya climbed up out of the pit and back onto solid ground. Her legs hurt badly.

The kobold in the back climbed over the bodies of his comrades and he and another kobold attacked Bran. One stabbed him but the other missed. The kobold that attacked Dodan missed the Halfling completely. Bran cut down another kobold. The last kobold fighting him couldn’t hurt him and he cut it down.

“Surrender or die!” Alissa called to the last kobold in his own language.

“Never!” the kobold shouted back. “You are awful, evil monsters who come to kill our children and eat our young!”

“Capture him alive!” Alissa called. “Let’s interrogate him!”

Dodan used the flat of his dagger to try to knock out the kobold but missed the creature completely. Arya dropped her blow and drew her short sword. She reached over and smacked the kobold in the head with the flat of her blade. The kobold went down, unconscious.

They helped each other back to the main corridor near the cave after Bran and Dodan searched the bodies. At Alissa’s suggestion, Arya retrieved her rope and tied the kobold to a tree outside. Then she helped Alissa back across the pit. Dodan flung the kobold bodies down into the hole. One made a terrible crack when he landed.

“How do you like your hole now, guys?” he called to them.

Bran and Dodan helped each other across the pit and the former hobbled outside. He’d been badly injured in the battle. Alissa slapped the kobold’s face a few times. He began jabbering in kobold angrily.

“Let me go or feel the wrath of my people!” he said in kobold to the wizard. “They will fall upon you like the wolves swarm over a bear!”

Arya took out one of her arrows and put the pointed end in the palm of the kobold’s hand.

“Should I?” she asked Alissa.

“We can kill you right now or you can tell us what else is in that cave,” Alissa said in the kobold tongue.

“You will kill me anyway!” the kobold said. “I know that. You come to kill my family and my children! You terrible people!”

Dodan moved to the kobold and started peeling off a scale.

“No!” Alissa said. “Stop!”

The kobold cried out in pain.

“I knew it!” he cried. “I knew it! I knew it!”

“Let’s just take him back to town and get rest,” Alissa said.

“You want information out of him or not?” Dodan said.

“I do, but I can get it my way.”

“I’m bleeding over here,” Bran said.

“You know what we could use?” Dodan said. “A ****ing cleric!”

“Well I kind of locked her up so …” Arya said. “No, I didn’t. I just shut her in.”

“Yeah … well …” Dodan said.

They returned to the Keep with their prisoner. They were questioned about why they wanted to bring a kobold into the keep and Alissa told the guards he had information they wanted. She was warned that if he got loose, they’d be in big trouble, probably being expelled from the keep. The guard told her the kobold was her responsibility. She pointed out he was tied up with 50 feet of hemp rope. She was told if he got loose, anything he did would be her responsibility.

Dodan went to the trader and sold his spearheads and the goblin short sword.

That night, Alissa, Arya, and Bran got private rooms while Dodan paid for the common room once again.

* * *

The next day, they learned a hobgoblin came to the Keep the night before, demanding 100 gold coins for the return of an insane priestess by the name of Mad Martha. The Castellan had not paid the ransom but put out the word that if anyone wished to pay for the person’s ransom, they could, but the keep would not be paying for this stranger. The Castellan was also willing to front the money though those who took the loan would be in debt to the Keep until they paid it off.

That same day, Alissa prepared to cast a charm person spell on the kobold. He was still defiant before she cast the spell but then she brought him a bowl of gruel.

“Ugh, your food is terrible!” he said. “I hate it!”

She also offered him some wine, letting the kobold drink some of it.

“This wine is terrible!” he said. “Give me some more!”

She ended up giving half the wineskin and the kobold was plastered by the time she was ready to cast the spell.

“I hate you … *****es,” he slurred. “You … done these … things … I don’t know what they are …”

She cast the spell on him.

“Except for you!” the kobold said. “You’re my best friend!”

She knew the spell would probably last three or four weeks.

“You’re my very best friend,” the kobold said, tears in his drunken eyes. “Oh my gods, I’m so glad you found me!”

He cried drunkenly and then fell asleep. She was convinced the spell had worked and knew she had him for a while. Hours later, after he awoke, she untied him. When walking about the keep, people gave her the strangest looks.

* * *

Later that day, Bran asked Dodan if he could pay for the priest in town to heal him.

“I don’t know if I have enough gold for that,” Dodan said.

“Bullshit!” Bran said.

Dodan gave the man nine silver coins to pay the priest and Bran went to the chapel. He talked to the Curate and put a gold piece into the offering box. The priest was willing to cast another cure light wounds on the man as he seemed to desperate. Bran noticed he watched the box closely and checked it as the man left.

“You see a Halfling around here, you tell him to stay outta here!” the Curate told him.

* * *

Dodan went to the Chapel but as soon as the Curate saw him, he yelled at him.

“Get outta here!” he yelled. “You’re not welcome in here, you little thief!”

He got a broom.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dodan said.

“Get outta here!” the Curate said.

He started hitting Dodan with the broom.

“Get out of my chapel!” the Curate said. “Get out of my church! You’re not welcome here!”

Dodan fled.

* * *

Alissa came to the tavern with the kobold that night. The little creature dug into the gruel she bought him.

“Yea, gruel!” he said in his own tongue. “I love this gruel that you give me!”

Dodan walked in, muttering about untrusting priests.

“Hey, there’s that Halfling!” the kobold said. “Can I kill him?”

Alissa shook her head.

“Dang it!” the kobold said. “Hey, there’s that elf! Can I kill her?”

“No,” Alissa said.

“Dang it!”

“I heard lizard tastes good,” Dodan said.

“Hey, that guy smells good!” the kobold said, gesturing at Bran. “Can I kill him?”

“No,” Alissa said.

“Dang it!”

Alissa actually found Bran’s scent quite offensive. He stank.

“Have you ever eaten lizard?” Dodan said.

“I like hobbit feet though!” the kobold said to Alissa.

Arya just gave the kobold the eye and wondered why he was just walking around.

“You have the best gruel!” the kobold said to Alissa. “You’re the best!”

Dodan wondered if the mage had used the spell on them.

Alissa talked to the kobold about the caves and he told her there were rats in the room to the left as they went in. The kobolds avoided it. There was a food storage room, a guard room, and the chieftain’s room. The chieftain had a key to the storage room and a really big gem on a golden chain around his neck. He also had five females in his room. He told her there were 17 more male kobolds in the tribe, and 23 females, and eight young. She asked about traps and he said there were not anymore; they only had the one and they repaired it pretty often. He guessed it was already fixed.

“As long as you don’t remembered it … don’t tell your friends,” he said. “Maybe they’ll fall in. Well, your non-friends. Your associates. Your … other peoples.” ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1963-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-“The-Keep-on-the-Borderlands”
Superworld: Pursuit from Down Under http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1961-Superworld-Pursuit-from-Down-Under Fri, 22 Jan 2016 17:23:20 GMT Monday, January 18, 2016 (After playing the original *Superworld* scenario “Pursuit from Down Under” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with Kyle... Monday, January 18, 2016

(After playing the original Superworld scenario “Pursuit from Down Under” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Joey Scott, Aaron Scott, and Hannah Gambino.)

Arclight did several ads for Papa Franchetti of Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios, a small local pizzeria in The Shops at Freedom in Charlotte, North Carolina. The commercials were fairly simple, with Arclight coming into the pizza shop, where they filmed on site, and really wanting some pizza. Papa Franchetti then came out of the kitchen to encourage Arclight to have pizza. At first, Papa Franchetti tried it with an Italian accent but the director and Arclight both convinced him not to. By the end of the commercial, Arclight ordered a pizza or a calzone. The camera zoomed in on him and he would say “It’s the best!”

The commercials were mostly appearing on local channels but the pay was no not bad. Arclight’s agent was also landing him other commercials in Charlotte and talking to the people at The CW about another appearance on Arrow.

He had gotten his own apartment with Doug and was finally able to move out of Vanguard’s place. He had picked a rather highly-priced apartment in one of the downtown skyscrapers. The VUE at 215 N. Pine Street was upscale and very nice and he got an apartment on the 31st floor. He’d found a nice, though expensive, two bedroom apartment with a balcony. It was fully though spartanly furnished. Doug the Pug loved it.

* * *

Tinker had returned home and improved the tiny jamming field to keep the Grays from picking up on the anti-matter pistol, as he called it. He had put an ad out in the paper for “Tinker’s Fix-It: If it’s broken and electronic, I’ll fix it.” He got a lot of people with appliances and smaller devices showing up to have things fixed.

On Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, there was a knock at the door and he found a tall, thin man in a suit carrying a metal suitcase.

“I need to talk to you,” the man said. “Can you be discreet?”

“I can be discreet,” Tinker said.

The man entered the apartment and looked around. He put the suitcase on the couch and opened it. At first, Tinker thought it held a ventriloquist dummy folded over. The man unfolded the small figure and stood it up on the floor and Tinker realized it had more mass than a dummy would.

“I need you to fix this,” the man said.

Tinker looked the automaton over, at first thinking it was an older robot. However, it looked virtually brand new and had a porcelain exterior though the joins were slightly exposed. It was faceless except for two eyelike cameras. The back opened up and there were some very complex circuit boards and computer equipment within.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

“My employer … my employer believes that the soul of his son is in this machine and it needs to work,” the man said.

Holy shit, Tinker thought.

“But it has broken down,” the man went on. “The device is 10 years old. Can you fix it? Can you be discreet?”

“I can be discreet, but, I mean, the more information you can give me, the more I have to go on,” Tinker said.

“All right. His son died 10 years ago and he’s convinced that his son’s soul is housed in this device.”

“How did he come to believe this?”

“Because, he had a research laboratory take his son’s brain engrams and place them into this machine.”

“Oh yeah, that’d work.”

“However, recently it has stopped working.”

Tinker looked at the mannequin for a moment.

“Yeah,” he finally said. “I’ll take a look at this.”

“What will you be charging for this?” the man asked. “Or shall I make you an offer?”

“Let me get back to you on that. I’ll need to find out what’s required. I can’t even give you a guesstimation on that right now.”

“Okay.”

The man took out a small notebook and opened it. He handed it to Tinker. There was a small document within, noting he was taking possession of “The Lazarus Device” and took full responsibility to return it, intact, at the very least. Tinker signed it and the man took out a notary public seal and sealed the document. He pulled out a duplicate from the book and handed it to him. There was a phone number Tinker could use to contact him on it.

“Here’s some down payment money in case you need any parts,” the man said.

He put a wad of cash into Tinker’s hand and left without another word. Tinker found there was a $1,000 there.

He took the mannequin back to the extra bedroom where he did most of his work and started inspecting it carefully.

* * *

Edward had been asking around among the homeless people but no more were missing from their ranks. No new terrible things were happening outside of the normal things. Gang violence was still sometimes a problem, as well as people harassing them about getting jobs and homes. Edward took it upon himself to punch some of the people who were harassing them.

* * *

On Friday, October 31, 2014, Arclight got a phone call.

“Arclight speaking,” he said.

“Is this Arclight?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“You know it is, baby!”

“Well, this is Mayor Daniel Clodfelter.”

“Oh … yes sir. How are you doing today?”

“We’d like you … we’d like you and your, uh, um, your friends or whatever they’re called …”

“Super friends.”

“Yeah. Arclight and the Super … wait. I thought. Whatever. We would like them to … we want to give you all certificates and medals of meritorious service to the city … at a … at a little gathering next Friday.”

“What kind of metal is the medals?”

“What? It’s just a medal. I don’t know.”

“Is it gold?”

“Sure!”

“All right. We’ll be there.”

“It’ll be next Friday at noon at city hall. Be there by 11.”

“Okay. All right. It was nice talking to you.”

“Don’t forget.”

“Yeah. Yep.”

He hung up. He was still a little bit put off by the death of Tommy McElroy almost a week before. He didn’t like when people died. He sent a post on the beeper: “We have an award ceremony next Friday at noon at city hall. We get gold medals.”

* * *

After working on the mannequin for a few days, Tinker found himself feeling a little strange about the whole thing. He was making good progress though he figured he had between two weeks and a month of work left. The whole interior of the mannequin was filled with computer circuitry, not all of it making a lot of sense and much of it worn out, broken, or burnt. There was a lot of interior damage though the exterior appeared to be sound. He wondered if it had been subjected to an EMP pulse or some kind of strong magnet or powerful current. He also thought it might have been simply 10 years of wear and tear.

He started calling the mannequin “Sonny” and began talking to it like it was aware.

* * *

Arclight and Doug patrolled Charlotte, mostly dealing with petty crimes such as muggings and a few gang dealings. Edward often found them and watched their heroics from a nearby sewer grate.

* * *

On Friday, November 7, 2014, Tinker was the first to arrive at city hall around 11 a.m. He pulled his motorcycle up to the curve and parked it. He wore his armor and hooded mask.

A platform had been set up in front of the building and off to one side in a clear area. About 50 folding chairs stood in front of the platform with a few more near the podium. Behind the large group of folding chairs was a roped-off area for people to come off the street and watch. Several cameras were set up near the platform and microphones on the podium.

As Tinker approached the platform, a young man in a suit approached him.

“Are you one of those … you’re one of the heroes, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Tinker said.

“Come right this way!” the intern said. “Come right this way!”

As he led Tinker to the platform, he told him they’d be starting at noon and everyone was very excited.

“The mayor was hoping that … where’s Arclight?” the intern said. “Is he here?”

He looked around.

“Maybe … knowing him, let’s just wait until we start getting excited,” Tinker said.

“That’s all right,” the intern said. “We don’t start until noon.”

He smiled nervously.

“But if he’s not here, in a little while, you can give him a call, right?” he said. “You’ve got his number?”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Tinker said.

“Great. Who else is coming?”

Tinker just gave him a blank look.

“I don’t know, man,” he said.

“Oh,” the intern said. “Sorry. Sorry. Uh … uh … okay.”

“He’s the one that told me to be here.”

“Okay.”

Arclight and Doug the Super Pug flew in a few minutes later, Arclight floating down and landing in the chair, already in the sitting position. Doug miscalculated his speed and angle and crashed into the stage and rolled over and over before leaping to his feet and looking around, trying to see if anyone noticed. Arclight laughed.

“There was some wind shear there, yeah,” Doug said.

The intern saw Arclight and ran over.

“So glad you’re here,” the intern said, pumping Arclight’s hand.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Arclight replied.

“Oh, thanks! I’m one of the assistants to the mayor. Who else is coming?”

“I don’t know. I just sent out beepers to all my people.”

“Could you find out?”

“The beeps to my peeps.”

“The mayor was especially hoping Cool Croc would be here. We’ve got several firefighters who want to present him with a special award for the help he gave them during those fires.”

“Yeah. I’ll go get him.”

“Thanks.”

Arclight flew to the street, lifted a manhole cover and climbed into the sewers below. Edward had actually been watching from a nearby sewer grate.

Great, he thought. Now they know where I am.

Arclight started calling quietly down the wide sewer pipe for Edward.

“Hey, man,” Edward said, coming out of the shadows.

“Dude, the thing’s …” Arclight pointed up towards the street. “You coming to the city hall thing?”

“Uh … I’m not too keen on it.”

“You really should. Everyone wants to see you.”

“Yeah, it’s a good reason to not really go.”

“Just … get in, like, cover up, man.”

“You have a blanket?”

“Yeah! I’ll tell ‘em you’re shy. I’ll take all your questions for you. You just stand behind me and you’ll get a medal.”

“I wish Magic Man were here so he could disguise me.”

“Well, he hasn’t been around in a while so who knows what he’s doing.”

“Yeah, he was my way of getting around outside.”

“A blanket works just as well.”

“Does it?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Got get me a blanket then.”

Arclight left the sewer and found the intern again.

“If you wanna see Cool Croc, I need a blanket,” he said.

“A blanket?” the intern said, turning from the TV crews he’d been talking to.

“He’s shy. He doesn’t want to be seen.”

“All right, I’ll get you a blanket.”

The man went into city hall and returned with a Red Cross blanket a few minutes later. Arclight took it to Edward.

“Look, you even get to keep this now,” he said.

“Nice,” Edward said. “I can give it to one of the homeless people after the show. They probably would enjoy that.”

“You coming?”

“Sure.”

“All right!”

Edward wrapped himself in the blanket, pulling it around him like a robe, and they left the storm sewers. Arclight immediately became really bright so as to get most of the attention for himself. The two walked to the platform.

Before noon, people had filled most of the chairs in front of the platform. There were city councilmen and women, other officials, the police and fire chiefs, and several firefighters in dress uniform. The firefighters waved at Edward and he waved back. Arclight told Tinker Edward was very shy, explaining the blanket, and asked the man to help if he got really nervous. Mayor Clodfelter arrived shortly before the ceremony. He seemed happy to see them and shook all of their hands.

“And you’re the one that helped with the fires?” he said to Edward.

“We all did,” Edward said.

“Yes, that’s great,” Mayor Clodfelter said. “That’s great.”

“I-I didn’t help with the fires,” Doug the Super Pug admitted. “I didn’t really help with the fires. I helped with other stuff though.”

“This is a talking dog?” the mayor said, looking at Doug. “You have a talking dog.”

“Of course I do,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Mayor Clodfelter said. “I hadn’t heard about that.”

He told them he’d introduce them at noon and they could answer questions, make a speech, or whatever they wanted to do. People from the street started to gather behind the chairs in front of the platform.

* * *

Yaara Tandon owned a flower shop northeast of downtown in NoDa, the arts district in Charlotte, in the North Charlotte neighborhood. Her little shop had a laboratory in the back and a small apartment above. She generally sold flowers and plants as well as helped her neighbors who needed her green thumb. She had also recently been experimenting with using different plants to create different effects.

She was bicycling by city hall when she saw the crowd out front and stopped to see what was going on. It looked like some kind of ceremony was taking place and she recognized some of the heroes of Charlotte.

* * *

By noon, most of the chairs were filled and a dozen or so people were standing in the roped-off area to watch. Arclight, Edward, and Tinker sat in three of the dozen chairs set up on the platform. Mayor Clodfelter went to the mic and tapped it. Arclight had just sent Doug the Super Pug to go get them coffee and hot chocolate.

“Check, check,” the mayor said good-naturedly. “Is this thing on?”

He told an unfunny joke to loosen up the crowd. Then a hissing noise came from above.

I knew it! Edward thought.

Looking up, they saw four tall mechs dropping towards the ground. The humanoid-shaped machines were painted blue and white with the work A.T.T.A.C.K. stenciled on the chest of each one. They appeared to be armored, though joints and other vulnerable spots could also be seen between the armor plating. Each of them had some kind of nozzle or barrel on their wrists as well as a long cannon barrel mounted in the left shoulder. Two of them carried what appeared to be some kind of long, modified minigun with large ammunition drums.

They landed on city hall grounds roughly in a square around the platform.

“Do not be alarmed!” loudspeakers blared from one of the mechs. The accent was Australian. “We are from the Australian Tactical Training and Armor Control Kluge, here to protect you from a dangerous animal. Please do not interfere!”

“What?” Tinker said quietly, moving in front of Edward.

He looked up and about a mile above was what looked like a large cargo jet of unusual design, circling. Arclight looked up as well, also moving in front of Edward. Edward noticed the mechs had an open top and he could actually see the pilots’ heads behind a semi-transparent windscreen. The men wore helmets.

People in the seats were starting to scatter, as were about half the people standing in the roped-off area behind them. The other people standing got out their cell phones and started to record what was going on.

“What is the meaning of this!?!” Arclight yelled at Mayor Clodfelter.

The mayor, trying to get off the platform, ignored him.

In the crowd of civilians, Yaara Tandon ducked under the rope line, pulled her scarf up over the lower half of her face, and ran towards a nearby tree.

“What do you want!?!” Arclight yelled at the mechs.

The machines moved forward as quickly as a car might drive, crashing towards the platform and surrounding the three on stage.

“Step away from the crocodile!” the loudspeakers blared from one of the mechs again.

Two of them raised their right arms, pointing the barrels on them at the stage. The two with the miniguns also pointed in their direction, though they were not yet spinning. Tinker drew his laser pistol and pointed it at the mech that had spoken. He noticed the pilot was rather exposed on the back of the mech, though he didn’t have a good shot at him. Edward flung off the blanket and drew the rifle from his back.

Yaara Tandon made it to the tree.

“Last time I checked, you’re in the United States of America!” Arclight shouted. “I think your further from your jurisdiction … or however the **** you say that. Out of your jurisdiction!”

“We have permission to retrieve this animal from your government!” came over the mech’s loudspeakers.

Then they opened fire.

Each of them fired from the wrist cannons, which belched forth a blast of energy of some strange kind. One of the blasts nearly struck Edward but he ducked to one side. The blast struck the platform but left no residue or mark. Another blast came from the opposite direction but missed him as well. The other blasts missed Arclight and Tinker.

“Step away from the animal!” came over the loudspeakers.

Tinker fired his laser pistol at the shoulder cannon on the mech that spoke. The beam missed completely.

“Arclight, how fast can you fly?” Edward said.

“Really fast,” Arclight said.

“Really fast?”

“Really fast.”

Yaara Tandon, near the tree, started fiddling with the strange chemicals and potions on her belt, mixing the various plant extracts she carried. Arclight flew directly at the mech that had been talking to them, punching the top of the mech and denting the armor.

“I’m gonna hurt you,” he said as he struck. “Crikey mate!”

Then he noticed the mech had an open top and there was a man sitting in it. The man looked very surprised and the mech tried to swat Arclight away but he leaned back and the huge arm missed him completely.

Another mech lowered its shoulder cannon and there was a loud report. A black mass burst from the gun and quickly expanded to form a net trailing a line. It flew at Edward but he leapt out of the way and it slammed into the platform, sliding along it. A blade slid over the front of the cannon and cut the steel cable connected to the wire net. The cannon clicked as it reloaded another charge.

Another mech fired its wrist cannon and the blast struck Tinker. He shook as if he was having a seizure and then fell to the ground, stunned. The other mech fired his wrist cannon at Edward and the blast struck the crocodile as well. However, he resisted the painful paralyzing energy.

Arclight flew over the front of the mech he faced.

“I’m going to punch you in your real face now!” he said.

He slammed his fist into the man’s face, breaking his nose. The man’s head slammed back into the back of his chair and his eyes rolled up. The mech leaned backwards and fell onto the ground.

“Good day, mate!” Arclight quipped.

One of the mechs turned towards him.

“He killed Tom!” came over the loudspeakers, again in an Australian accent.

The mech raised its minigun and the barrels began spinning. Then the gun opened up on him but the blast went wide and missed altogether. Another mech fired its net cannon at Edward but the net flew over Edward’s head and crashed to the platform. Again, the cannon cut the steel cable connected to the net free. Another mech fired its stun cannon at Edward but he ducked easily out of the way.

Tinker struggled to move.

Edward drew out the frigid gun he’d stolen from Absolute Zero and spun the dial Tinker had labeled for him. He turned it to the setting that did less cold damage but encased things in ice. He aimed and fired at the minigun and ice formed on the barrels as they spun. The minigun barrels slowed and then came to a stop with a grinding noise.

Yaara Tandon, still standing beside the tree, wanted to go over to help the heroes, having made a potion that would protect them. She worried about getting gunned down, though. Finally, she flung the potion towards them, but it fell short, not reaching the platform but landing in front of the chairs in the grass there. Only Edward noticed.

Arclight flew at the mech that had just fired at him, flying at the pilot.

“I’m gonna send you to the land down under,” he said.

“Nooo!” the man cried.

He punched the man in the face, breaking that man’s nose as well. The man was knocked out by the massive blow and his mech toppled over onto its back.

Across the lawn, the other mech with the minigun opened fire on Arclight, aiming at his back. He missed the completely as well. The last mech fired his shoulder cannon at Edward and the net struck the crocodile, folding around him and trapping him.

Tinker finally felt the terrible paralyzation fade away. He saw Edward get snared by the net and so rolled over, grabbing his laser pistol, and fired at the steel cable connected to the net Edward was trapped within. The beam missed altogether. Edward fiddled with the frigid gun and used it on the net. The wire mesh was covered in frost but held together. He felt a blast of cold and saw frost form on part of the platform.

Yaara Tandon started running across the lawn, heading for the other tree. Arclight flew at the mech that had fired the minigun at him.

“I don’t think you’re koala-fied for this job!” he quipped.

He punched the man in the face and this time heard not only the crack of the man’s nose breaking, but the crunch of his skull as well. The man’s face was partially collapsed and Arclight realized he was going to die if he didn’t get immediate medical attention, maybe even if he did. The mech stopped moving altogether.

“Oh my God,” Arclight muttered.

A whirring noise came from the last remaining mech and the steel cable went taut and started pulling Edward towards the cannon on the mech’s shoulder. He was pulled off the edge of the platform and into the grass.

Yaara Tandon ran the rest of the way to the tree. Once she got there, she started mixing up a potion.

Arclight worked the complex buckles holding the dying man into the mech.

As Edward was pulled towards the mech, the rockets on the sides of the things feet started to glow with power and hiss as they ignited. Tinker fired at the steel cable again and the laser struck the target. The cable glowed red but didn’t part. He quickly stood up. Edward shoved the barrel of the frigid gun through one of the net’s holes and fired at the rocket booster on one side of the mech. It was covered in frost and the rocket engine coughed and flared but didn’t shut down completely.

Arclight had gotten the dying man out of his buckles and looked around. He saw Edward being pulled towards the other mech so he abandoned the man and flew at the last mech, punching the man there in the face, this time without a quip. The man was knocked unconscious by the blow but the line continued to reel Edward in.

Edward was dragged to the end of the cannon before the line stopped, leaving him hanging about 25 feet off the ground. He saw a woman he didn’t recognize move away from a tree.

“Tinker! Look out behind you!” he yelled.

“What?” Tinker yelled, spinning around, gun in hand.

He saw the woman who had partially covered her face with her scarf but didn’t see any more mechs.

“She threw something at us!” Edward yelled.

Arclight flew towards the man he’d almost killed and flew away with him, heading for the hospital.

Doug flew in almost right after Arclight disappeared. He had a cardboard drink tray with several covered cups on it in his mouth. He muttered something unintelligible to them. Then he put the tray down on the edge of the platform and looked around, confused.

“Aw,” he said, looking at the mechs. “Are those for us? Are those the medals?”

The firemen were still amidst the chairs, having taken cover when the gunfire erupted. As a group, they headed towards Edward.

“Get a fire truck out here to help get him down!” Tinker said to them.

“Gotcha, chief!” one of them said to him and headed off.

The others continued towards Edward.

Tinker looked around and spotted Mayor Clodfelter. He had obviously fallen during the combat and was not yet out of the area. Tinker strode over to the man.

“I need these,” he said, gesturing at the mechs.

“Well, they … they belong to these people!” Mayor Clodfelter said.

“These people don’t matter!”

“They said that that …”

The mayor pointed at Edward.

“… they said he was a dangerous animal,” he finished.

“He’s - he’s one of us!” Tinker said.

“But he’s an animal!”

“I don’t care!”

“But both Federal and State law state animals do not have any civil rights. Like robots or the dead.”

Tinker punched the man in the face, merely clipping him in the chin without really hurting him. Mayor Clodfelter stumbled back.

“How dare you?” he cried. “Get away from me! Officer! Arrest this man! Arrest this man for assault!”

Tinker grabbed him by the lapels of his suit and shook him.

“He’s one of us, you bastard!” he shouted in the man’s face.

“Let me go!” Mayor Clodfelter cried. “Let me go!”

Tinker flung him back and he fell into the grass. He yelled at Tinker he hadn’t heard the last of it. Tinker lit a cigarette and headed back to the others.

The police chief was heading over towards the mech holding Edward and, when Tinker looked around, he noticed it didn’t look like anyone had noticed the altercation between him and the mayor. The people holding cell phones were pointing them at that mech. The firemen were examining the mech, a few looking for ways to climb up while others positioned themselves under Edward in case he fell. Police Chief Dean was looking up at the crocodile. Doug flew up to the trapped crocodile.

“Hey!” the talking dog said.

“Hey,” Edward said.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Uh … got caught.”

“That sucks!”

“It does.”

“Do you want to get free?”

“Yes.”

“Um … hmmm … I got an idea.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Okay. Ready?”

“All right.”

Doug gripped the net in his mouth and apparently tried to lift it up without luck.

“Okay, we better wait for the firemen,” he said.

“Oh,” Edward said. “Yeah, I’ll wait a little bit.”

Yaara Tandon walked over to the mech receiving all the attention. She waved at Edward.

“Hey,” he said.

She took out a bottle with the potion she’d made. She held it up and showed it to him, then took the cork out. She tried to splash Edward with the potion. Unfortunately, it came back down right on top of her. She vanished.

“Where did she go?” Tinker asked.

“Holy crap!” Doug the Super Pug said. “What happened to that lady?”

“What was that all about?” Tinker asked.

“Did you know her?” Doug asked Edward. “Was she a witch? I think she melted! Arclight had us watch Wizard of Oz last week. It was really good. I liked the flying monkeys … and that little dog too.”

* * *

Yaara Tandon found herself in a wide storm sewer. She looked around and realized where she was. The potion was supposed to teleport the crocodile downward 20 feet but it had struck her and sent her down instead. She started looking for a way out.

* * *

Arclight arrived at Carolinas Medical Center as quickly as he could, taking the injured man to the emergency room. They got the man immediately to the ICU and the doctors and nurses did everything they could. Unfortunately, they were unable to save the man’s life. The doctor finally came out and told Arclight the man he’d brought had died. Arclight moaned and looked at the floor.

* * *

The fireman returned with a cherry picker and an arc welder. They got Edward into the basket and then two men cut the line and brought the basket down. Everyone helped unravel Edward from the net. Several police cars also arrived from across the street with numerous policemen putting down a perimeter and guarding the mechs. Ambulances also arrived and the men had been removed from the fallen mechs and taken to the hospital. The still-standing machine with the man inside was scaled using the cherry picker and firemen’s ladders and the man was removed and taken to the hospital as well. The men’s sidearms resembled Edward’s rifle in design and the police confiscated them.

Edward and Tinker watched everything. Tinker drank the coffee he’d ordered and Edward sipped on a hot chocolate. Doug drank water: hot chocolate made him feel sick and he didn’t like coffee. Edward had picked up the decorative potion bottle with a narrow neck. It was not labeled. He guessed it made people vanish.

“What happened to that lady?” he asked.

Doug had sniffed around the spot the lady had disappeared and was convinced she was some kind of witch and had melted. Tinker found the police chief coordinating a few flatbed trucks and cranes they were going to use to remove the mechs. He was also talking to a couple of city councilmen, who didn’t seem to have any idea what had happened.

Tinker really wanted one of the mechs.

“I need … I need to figure out what these things are and what they do,” he said to Chief Arnold.

“We’ve got to keep them for evidence,” Chief Arnold replied. “For now. I’m not sure what’s going on. Once we figure it out, we’ll see. How about that?”

“How about I help with the police to figure out what they do?” Tinker said. “And then afterwards …”

“Yes,” Chief Arnold replied. “Afterwards, we’ll see. Yes. That sounds fair.”

Tinker introduced himself for the first time to the man.

“I’m Tinker with FORCE,” he said. “I want to help out however I can.”

“Good to have another hero around,” Chief Dean said.

Not long after that, Yaara Tandon returned.

“So … I tried to help,” she said when she approached them.

“There she is!” Doug said. “She’s back!”

“But that didn’t work out too well,” she said.

“What?” Edward said.

“Are you a witch?” Doug asked.

“What happened?” Edward asked.

“Are you a witch?” Doug asked again.

“No,” she said.

“Why did you melt?” he asked.

“Yeah, so I tried to use teleportation to get you down but … uh … it backfired a little bit,” she said.

“So, these things teleport you places?” Edward asked, holding up the bottle he’d found.

“That one,” she replied, pointing to the bottle, “is supposed to be a force field, but then you got captured. I make concoctions.”

“Oh, that’s cool,” Edward said.

“Wait are you a─?” Doug said. Then he turned to Edward. “Is she a superhero?” Then he whispered: “I’m a superhero!”

“No,” she said.

“I am!” Doug replied. “I’m Doug the Pug. Super pug! Doug the Super Pug! No relation to Doug the Pug. I don’t know that guy.”

He winked at Edward as Tinker walked up. Edward gave Doug a thumbs up and Doug looked at his own paws and their lack of thumbs.

“You okay man?” Tinker said to Edward.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Edward said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“All right.”

Tinker lit another cigarette. Then he noticed Yaara Tandon.

“She’s a witch,” Doug said. “Super Witch. That’s her name, I bet.”

“Super Witch?”

“Yeah, she, like, makes potions that … teleports people and makes force fields. See, I was listening! You didn’t think I was but I was listening!”

She glared at the talking dog.

“Yeah?” Tinker said to Doug and turned away.

“Yeah!” Doug said. He turned to Edward and said in a whisper: “See, he listens to me.”

“You did good, Doug,” Edward said.

“Thanks!” Doug said. “I brought coffee.

Tinker told Edward the police were going to let him look at the mechs and figure out what he could. Edward told him he was pretty sure he knew where they came from.

“Is that right?” Tinker said, taking a drag on the cigarette.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“Yeah?” Tinker said. “You wanna shed a little light on that?”

“Sure,” Edward said.

He told them the Australian Tactical Training and Armor Control Kluge or A.T.T.A.C.K. was a company based in Australia, where he was from. He said they were trying to catch him so he had fled to America, but apparently they had found him. He noted it was why he was trying to stay out of the media. Doug asked why they wanted to catch him and he said apparently he had the director’s son’s soul inside him.

“What!?!” Doug said.

“This sounds very familiar,” Tinker said.

“His soul?” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“So, are you really that guy?” Doug asked.

“Kind of. In a way.”

“Was his name Edward?”

“No.”

“Oh, it wasn’t?”

“Kid’s soul, huh?” Tinker said.

Edward told them there was an experiment to put the human psyche into animals. Edward was a test animal. Since the director’s son was unconscious and going to die, they decided, as a last resort, to try to save him by putting him into Edward. It didn’t exactly work. The director wanted him to be his son but instead, Edward had merely gotten smarter.

“So, you’re really the crocodile?” Doug asked.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“With like human …” Doug said.

“Characteristics,” Edward said.

“… like hanging on,” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“So, you don’t remember anything about the kid’s life?” Tinker said.

“That’s where … he wasn’t a kid,” Edward said. “He was a firefighter, which is why I’ve got …”

“Oh, so son not child,” Tinker said. “Just son.”

“Yeah,” Edward said.

He told them the director was upset and claimed Edward stole his son’s soul.

“But it was forced on you!” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“That’s like rape!” Doug said.

“Wow,” Edward said. “All right.”

Doug pointed out that it wasn’t like Edward had taken the soul, it was placed in him. He called the director a jerk and Edward noted that was why he’d left. Doug asked how Edward had gotten opposable thumbs and Edward told him he’d had the suit since he was just a couple of months old. It was modified as he got older. As it was made for humans, it shaped his physiology as he got older. Doug was impressed.

“I wish I had opposable thumbs,” Doug said. “It would make video games so much easier.”

“It would,” Edward said. “But, if I take the suit off, that’s why I can’t stay without the suit.”

“Would you turn back into a crocodile without the suit?”

“No, it’s just my muscles start aching.”

“Wow! I didn’t know any of this. Did you know this, Tinker?”

“No, I had no idea.”

“Okay. I’m not mad at you then, because if you hadn’t told me, I’d be really sad.”

Yaara Tandon had been listening, wide-eyed.

“Well,” she said. “You can keep that─”

“Nice!” Edward said.

“─for later. I can make more.”

“Is this, like, magic?”

“It’s … flowers. It’s cool, huh? But I have a store but you could come by anytime you need more potions and stuff.”

“Do you have potions that give opposable thumbs?” Doug asked.

“No,” she said.

She gave them the address and phone number of her store in NoDa. They entered it into their cell phones and pagers. She noticed Doug had a pager clipped onto his super suit. Tinker put her name on his phone as “Aerith.”

“Hey, where’s Arclight?” Doug asked.

They looked around but there was no sign of the hero. Yaara Tandon went back to her bicycle and left.

“Yeah, where is Arclight?” Tinker said.

“He was gone when I got here,” Doug said.

“I didn’t see him,” Edward said.

Edward paged Arclight: “Where are you?”

There was no reply.

* * *

Arclight didn’t even look at his pager when it beeped. He just took out the device and crushed it.

* * *

“What if something happened to him?” Edward said.

Doug gasped.

“Nothing’s going to happen to him,” Tinker said.

“I’m gonna go look for him!” Doug said.

He flew off in search of Arclight.

“So, I tried to punch the mayor,” Tinker said. “Threw him on the ground. I probably ought to get outta here.”

“I’m probably not too safe here either,” Edward said.

“You can come back to my place if you want,” Tinker said.

They were approached by the police about then and asked to give statements on the entire attack. They went to the station and the police got a contact number for Edward and Tinker. Tinker ended up heading back to city hall to help the police with the mechs. Edward went home to the sewers.

* * *

Doug found Arclight at the Carolinas Medical Center.

“Arclight, what’s going on?” he asked. “Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter?”

He nudged up against Arclight’s leg.

“We should go home,” Arclight said.

They went home.

When they got there, landing on the balcony and entering the place, Arclight went into his room and shut the door. The television came on out in the living room where Doug, sans opposable thumbs, fumbled with the remote before getting a news channel. He flipped a lot though, so the stations kept changing.

Through the wall, Arclight could hear the news report on the attack on city hall and some of the questions that had arisen. Very little information was yet available. On FOX News, there was plenty of opinions about animal rights, all of it opposed to said rights, on the grounds that people might try to marry their hamster or something.

No country in the world gave animals equal rights, not even those animals who had human or equivalent intelligence. The lack of basic civil rights extended to computer AIs and sentient robots, as well as the dead who might still be walking around. The issues had been addressed by the American Civil Liberties Union, PETA, and other organizations and political parties, but no court cases had been resolved either giving said “persons” civil rights.

* * *

Tinker found the mechs exceedingly high tech. The two weapons on the arms were some kind of stun cannon or paralysis ray. The shoulder cannons were made to fire the nets and cables. The miniguns were high-tech but not exceptionally interesting. The entire mechs were controlled via joysticks and foot pedals and were also very high-tech and well-built. Other than the miniguns, none of the weapons were actually deadly. They also appeared to be flight-capable though he guessed the flight would be slow and clumsy.

* * *

The news was filled with more and more information on what happened at city hall. FOX News reported that an Australian company received permission from Mayor Clodfelter to recover an animal they owned: one of the superheroes of Charlotte - Cool Croc. Since animals had no rights, it was probably going to have to be decided in court what would be done. Other news agencies reported the mayor thought Edward was possibly dangerous. It was also reported that Jack Kelly, the director of A.T.T.A.C.K., was demanding the return of what he called Experimental Subject 6641, whom it was believed was the Cool Croc or Vicegrip. A picture of a man with a mustache wearing a blue beret was shown of Kelly. It was also reported one of the people involved in the assault on city hall was killed during the scuffle with local super heroes. Arclight was being sought for questioning. There was also some question as to the mayor’s part in everything that happened. Mayor Clodfelter was not commenting on the incident.

* * *

On Saturday, November 8, 2014, Tinker sent a message to Edward, asking him to meet him at his place. Edward arrived shortly after. They both got a page from Doug the Super Pug.

“Something’s wrong with Arclight,” it read. “He’s really sad.”

Tinker guessed the advertising with Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios must have fallen though.

“We need to make it so they can’t just come and claim you,” Tinker told Edward. “Technically, you have a human soul. Technically. You have been given a human soul. I think that should be up for debate whether or not you have rights.”

“Yeah, but zombies have human souls,” Edward said. “And they don’t have rights.”

“People think zombies are dead. People think they have the absence of a soul. But you were given a human soul.”

“I don’t know. It’s gonna be hard to fight.”

“I still think it’s worth doing.”

Tinker decided he was going to look into FORCE for a lawyer for superheroes and their issues. He was angry at the mayor for luring them there. Edward was annoyed and wondered if the mayor didn’t want him to protect the citizens of Charlotte. Tinker contacted FORCE online to try to get a lawyer.

* * *

By Sunday, November 9, 2014, the news reports were starting to sound a little more desperate for Arclight to contact the police. Tinker and Edward paged Doug and tried to get the address. It took Doug a while to figure out all the details.

“Have that witch bring some flowers,” Doug texted them back before they came. “Super Witch. You know who I’m talking about.”

“Hey, you got flowers that might cheer up our friend?” Tinker texted Yaara Tandon.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Doug said to bring some flowers.”

“Cool.”

They arranged to meet her at Arclight’s apartment at The VUE. Yaara Tandon had pink daisies growing in a pot. Doug answered the door with a “Come in!” as he had trouble with doors. They looked at the nice apartment and Tinker was a little envious of the place.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Doug said. “Arclight hasn’t been out of his room since Friday. I’m so worried.”

“Let’s see what we got going on,” Tinker said. “Edward, go check on him.”

Edward looked at him.

“He likes you more!” Tinker said.

“I don’t know what to say!” Edward said.

“Just … knock on the door.”

“Hey, that guy was a scumbag anyway?”

“No!”

Tinker walked over to the door, pushing Edward out of the way.

“Hey man,” he called through the door. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Arclight said.

“He’s not fine,” Doug whispered.

“We got you some flowers,” Tinker said through the door.

There was no reply.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Tinker muttered.

He opened the bedroom door. The room was very nice though there was a bit of a smell. All the blinds were drawn. Arclight sat at an empty desk facing the window. A half-filled bottle of whiskey was on the desk next to an empty glass. It was very dim.

This is ****ing depressing, Tinker thought.

He went over and opened the curtains, letting in the light. Then he grabbed the glass and poured himself a drink.

“What the **** are you doing?” he said to Arclight.

“I killed a man,” Arclight muttered.

“So what?”

“It’s not - we’re heroes! We’re not supposed to kill!”

“You know what? If you didn’t kill him, he probably would have killed your friend.”

“I know.”

“So, would that have been better?”

“I don’t want anyone to die.”

“Well … tough shit. People are gonna die. And that’s part of the job. You can deal with it and be a man or you can sit and sulk.”

“Just … I could’ve saved him. I had him in my hands. He didn’t make it. If I’d have just been faster …”

“You did everything that you could. That counts for something.”

“I’ve … punched so many people. It’s never … I’ve never been strong enough to kill a man. I’ve just recklessly been punching everyone and … he was the first one that just … died on impact. I just … I don’t know my own strength. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Well, if it weren’t for you, we probably would have all died. Do, you may have accidently killed one ******* … but because of that, the rest of us are okay.”

“I just … I just need some time. I don’t know.”

“You’ve had plenty of time. We need you. Everyone’s asking about you. We can’t cover for you anymore. We don’t have the - we aren’t Arclight. People look at us and they just see the B-class heroes. They’re not going to listen to us.”

“Or villain in my case,” Edward said.

“You’re not a villain,” Arclight said. “And you’re not B-class heroes. We’re a ****ing team.”

“We are!” Tinker said. “Right now we’re missing somebody and he’s in here being a dick.”

Arclight took a swig of whiskey from the bottle.

“That’s right,” Tinker said.

“All right, let me shower,” Arclight said. “I’ll be out in a bit.”

“Good man,” Tinker said.

In 15 minutes, Arclight was ready to go. He flew down to the police station and was questioned by police and then charged with manslaughter. Chief Dean advised Arclight to get a lawyer. He told him not the leave the city but Chief Dean told him he’d be released on his own recognizance due to his service to the city. Arclight got a lawyer, who thought sure he would exonerated of all charges. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1961-Superworld-Pursuit-from-Down-Under
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Five http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1960-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Five Wed, 13 Jan 2016 19:51:43 GMT Monday, January 11, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with James Brown, Katie Gallant, Aaron Scott,... Monday, January 11, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with James Brown, Katie Gallant, Aaron Scott, Joey Scott, Kyle Matheson, and Hannah Gambino Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.)

After Sofia Rosita Mariana Fernando Vasquez II Junior drove off at speed, leaving Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter and Floyd Wayne by the side of the Road in the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Jorman Flanagan leaned forward from the back seat.

“You know, you left Floyd back there too,” he said.

“What?” she replied.

She was silent for a minute or so.

“Fine, if he wants to go with that jackass, let him!” she finally said.

“Maybe we should just go back for him,” Flanagan said.

The woman turned and glared at him. Then she slammed on the brakes and pulled off the side of the road.

“Sure!” she said angrily. “You want to go back for him, you go back! Get out!”

Flanagan slipped out of the 4Runner and she floored it and tore away from him. He looked around a moment at the dark road and then started hoofing it back down 421 towards Deep Gap. She had managed to get them several miles away from the others before stopping, he wasn’t pleased to see.

* * *

Leslie Stanwick, aka “Blaze,” was a 16-year-old young skinny punk who lived with his divorced mother in a crappy little apartment in Deep Gap, North Carolina. There were four other apartments on the building behind a gravel parking lot. Their apartment was a two-bedroom and he had the bedroom in the front because it was bigger.

He was awoken in the middle of the night by what sounded like a car wreck. He looked at his clock and saw it was almost 3 a.m. It sounded like a car rolled over some ways away, probably on 421. He tried to get back to sleep without luck so he went to the tiny kitchen for a snack. A little Mountain Dew Code Red and some Twinkies would hit the spot. His mom was at work in Boone and wouldn’t be home until about 7 a.m.

* * *

Abraham Jandhyala was woken from his sleep by the blaring of a stereo in one of the nearby apartments. An emergency medical technician, Jandhyala was Indian, originally coming from India, but had lived in the states for some time. He was 32 years old and had a small, inexpensive apartment in Deep Gap, though he worked in Boone.

The music that woke him up was Nine Inch Nails. It sounded like it was coming from the apartment next door, where the Stanwicks lived. He guessed Blaze was up.

Nice, he thought. He’s always had the greatest taste in music.

He got up and got a drink of water. He also checked his beeper. He was not on call, it being one of his rare nights off, but he wanted to see what was going on and was surprised to see there were no pages whatsoever since about 11 p.m. That was unprecedented in his three years working as an EMT. There were always calls for ambulances in the night but there was absolutely nothing from Boone in the last four hours.

Nice, he thought. Seems like a pretty quiet night. Nothing wrong.

It was a little strange though. The last dispatch was at 11:04 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 2015.

That’s really odd, he thought. Oh well.

* * *

Blaze, enjoying his Twinkies and Code Red, heard a banging on the apartment door. He answered it and found Mr. Frisby there.

“S’up,” Blaze said.

Mr. Frisby was a fat, balding man with a messy mustache who reminded him of Carl from Aqua Team Hunger Force. He wore a wife beater t-shirt and striped boxer shorts. His face was very red. He always spoke with a lisp.

“Whataya?” he said, his southern accent making him almost impossible to understand. “Shut that shit up! What th’ hell’s wrong with you!?! Shut that shit up!”

He shoved Blaze aside and walked into the apartment, going to the stereo and bending over it, trying to figure out how to turn it off. Blaze picked up the baseball bat nearby.

“Get out of my house, man!” Blaze said. “Yo, get outta here!”

Mr. Frisby finally just pulled the plug out of the wall. The music stopped.

“This is my mom’s house!” Blaze said.

“If you turn this thing back on, I’m comin’ back here,” Mr. Frisby said. “With the po-leese!”

He stomped out, grabbing the door and slamming it shut behind him.

Jandhyala had opened his own front door and watched Mr. Frisby leave the apartment. The man walked by, nodding at him as he went.

“Hey,” Jandhyala said. “Mind not slamming the door at three in the morning?”

Mr. Frisby looked at him, open-mouthed.

“Yeah, sorry Jandhyala,” he said.

“No problem, dude,” Jandhyala said.

He walked back to his apartment, watching the man as he passed. Blaze had opened up apartment door again.

“Yeah!” he said.

“What an ass,” Jandhyala said to Blaze.

“You want some Twinkies, man?” Blaze asked.

“Dude! Yes!” Jandhyala said.

Blaze remembered the car accident that had woke him up.

“Hey, man, you go out to that car accident?” Blaze asked as they entered the apartment.

“Nah, today’s my day off,” Jandhyala said.

“Cool, man,” Blaze said.

He realized there could be dead bodies at the wreck.

“You wanna go check it out?” Blaze said. “There might be some cool dead bodies.”

“I guess,” Jandhyala replied.

“Blood and stuff.”

“I guess if there’s a wreck, we should at least check it out. Make sure everyone’s okay.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Jandhyala went back to the apartment and got dressed, grabbing his pocket knife and a first-aid kit. The two then walked over to 421 and saw a few cars already at the site of the wreck, apparently. In the intersection of 421 and 221 was a large overturned SUV. Several people were clustered around it, just standing there. It looked like it had rolled over.

* * *

Flanagan reached the intersection of 421 and 221 as a couple of other people approached a wrecked SUV in the intersection he had not remembered being there when he had passed by the place over a half hour before. He realized the people wandering around it were more zombies.

He crept by the walking dead in the darkness but they all saw him and turned his way.

* * *

Blaze and Jandhyala saw the man walk towards the SUV and then try to creep around the people there. The people all started walking towards him. He ran at the two. The people from the car slowly walked their direction.

“Zombies!” Flanagan said. “Get away!”

“Wait what?” Blaze said.

“What?” Jandhyala said.

“They’re zombies!” Flanagan said.

“Dude, you trippin’,” Blaze said. “What chu talkin’ ‘bout?”

“Well, if you want to wait a second, you can see them up close,” Flanagan said. “And they’re gonna try to bite you.”

“Is everything okay over there?” Jandhyala asked. “I’ve got a med-kit.”

“They’re zombies,” Flanagan said again. “They’re done.”

“Wait,” Jandhyala said. “Okay …”

“The med-kit might be useful though,” Flanagan said.

The people continued to walk slowly towards them.

“So, we should probably get out of the street because there’s like five them coming at us,” he said.

“Is anyone in the car?” Jandhyala asked.

“They’re zombies!”

“Zombies aren’t real!”

“Yo, Abraham,” Blaze said. “Zombies?”

Flanagan backed away from the approaching crowd.

“Look at them!” he said. “They’re going slow and they’re not talking! What the **** are they if they’re not zombies!”

“Hey,” Jandhyala said to the people approaching. “What happened here?”

The one closest to him, still about 10 feet away, opened his mouth wide and moved at him. Jandhyala backed up.

“Shit, Abraham, man!” Blaze shrieked. “They are zombies!”

“They are zombies!” Flanagan echoed.

“Wait, something’s wrong with ‘em but─” Jandhyala said.

Blaze didn’t wait. He stepped forward and threatened the man in the front with his baseball bat. The man didn’t appear to really even notice but continued towards Jandhyala.

“He’s in shock!” Jandhyala said. “He’s not a zombie.”

It was still unnerving.

Blaze swung his baseball bat at the approaching man’s legs. He struck the man and something snapped in one of the legs as the man went down without a sound.

“Jesus, Blaze!” Jandhyala cried. “What the hell!?!”

“He was trying to bite you, dude!” Blaze said.

“He was just in a wreck!” Jandhyala said.

The fallen man reached forward and grabbed Blaze by the leg. Blaze brought the bat down on the man’s head as hard as he could. The man’s skull cracked and his head slammed against the concrete with a terrible sound. A little blood appeared on the man’s head, but he didn’t make a sound and didn’t slow down at all. Flanagan flung a knife at the man but it missed and flew into the darkness.

“What’s wrong with you people!?!” Jandhyala said. “Stop beating this guy! He just got in a car wreck!”

The man on the ground tried to bite Blaze on the leg but the youth shoved the Twinkie he’d been holding into his mouth. This seemed to confuse him only a little as he continued to try to bite the boy’s leg. Blaze beat on him with the baseball bat but it seemed ineffectual. Flanagan flung another knife at the man, hitting him in the foot, but not slowing him down.

“C’mon man!” Blaze yelled. “Do something!”

Jandhyala dropped his medical kit, grabbed Blaze under the arms, and pulled him away from the man.

“What are you ****ing doing, guy!?!” Flanagan yelled.

The man on the ground bit at Blaze’s jeans and tore them though he didn’t actually bite the youth. Blaze brought the baseball back down on the man’s arm and struck him in the elbow. There was another terrible snapping noise and the hand that held his leg let go with a jerk. The arms flipped around in a way it shouldn’t but the man continued to try to grab at the youth with his other hand.

Flanagan moved by the two and stabbed the man on the ground in the temple, slamming the blade in and then pulling it back out. Jandhyala got a weird, sick thrill when he saw the man’s head drop in obvious death. It felt so wrong. The rest of the group continued to walk towards them.

“Run!” Flanagan yelled. “Run!”

He ran, picking up the medical kit as he ran by. Blaze yelled at Jandhyala to get off him and broke free to run away as well. Jandhyala saw the other men were coming at him, all with mouths open.

“I’m gonna go with this guy,” Blaze yelled as he ran up 421 towards Boone.

Jandhyala noticed there wasn’t as much blood coming from the dead body on the ground as he expected. Then he turned and ran away. The other four men merely walked after them without ever increasing their speed. After the three got about fifty yards up the road, the four strange men stopped walking.

“What’s going on, man?” Blaze said to Flanagan.

“I feel like we need to check out that SUV,” he replied. “It’s wasn’t there when I passed by before.”

“First things first. What are these guys?”

“They’re zombies! I’ve said it, like, five times.”

“When did this happen!?!”

“Just recently.”

“All right, well …”

“Around 11 yesterday.”

There were still stars falling from the sky though they were mostly confined to the west.

“You wanna sneak around and check out that vehicle?” Blaze said.

“We should,” Flanagan replied.

They crept around the men who were wandering aimlessly on the highway and got back to the SUV which proved to be an older model Lincoln Navigator. There was some camping gear within as well as a lot of canned goods, bottles and large jugs of water, and even a fire axe and a mattock. Flanagan recognized the tools as those Floyd and Skadooter had been carrying.

“Do you have a car?” Flanagan asked Jandhyala.

“Yes,” the other man replied.

“I don’t have a car but I can drive,” Blaze said.

“Can you bring your car up here?” Flanagan asked.

“If these are zombies, shouldn’t we, like, take care of ‘em?” Jandhyala asked.

“I mean … they’re slow,” Flanagan said doubtfully. “There’s only four. We could.”

“Do you mean take care of them like bash their head in?” Blaze asked.

“I think that’s what he meant, yes,” Flanagan said. “Here’s your med-kit.”

He handed Jandhyala the medical kit he’d picked up.

“Oh thanks,” Jandhyala said.

“I thought you meant care for them,” Blaze said with a pout.

“We should practice taking these out,” Jandhyala said.

He looked at the road. The tire marks connected to the wreck seemed to indicate someone had tried to turn the car left onto 221 at too high a speed and it had rolled. There was a little blood in the vehicle as well. He pointed it out to the others. Flanagan asked if they were heading up 221 and Jandhyala said they were.

“So, are these zombies your friends?” Jandhyala asked.

“Nah!” Flanagan said. “No. None of them look familiar. We can go kill ‘em if you really want to. I need my knives back anyway.”

“We need to practice,” Jandhyala said.

Flanagan searched for the first knife he’d thrown and found it in the road. One of the zombies had wandered into the brush, leaving three in the road. Jandhyala retrieved the fire axe from the car and Flanagan pulled the mattock out. Jandhyala asked if hitting in the head killed them and Flanagan said that’s what it seemed like. Blaze noted he’d hit the man’s head and nothing had seemed to happen.

“Yeah, but this is an axe,” Jandhyala said.

“You gotta put nails in your bat,” Flanagan said. “You can kill, like, one or two but then we need to leave.”

“We need to practice,” Jandhyala said.

“You pussied out in the last fight, so …” Blaze said to Jandhyala.

“Damn, kid!” Flanagan said.

“C’mon Abe-man, let’s see what you’ve got,” Blaze said.

“You were just too quick to accept that they were zombies,” Jandhyala said.

“He was trying to bite me!”

“Or get your attention. Maybe he had a collapsed lung and couldn’t say anything.”

“What do you believe right now? Are they zombies or are they not zombies? Who was right?”

“Well … you were right.”

While they talked, Flanagan crept up behind one of the zombies. He tried to stab the thing in the head but the man lurched as he struck and the stiletto went into the thing’s neck, coming out of the other side. He pulled his knife out but the man didn’t fall.

“Cool!” Blaze said.

The zombie turned and opened its mouth, biting Flanagan in the shoulder and ripping out a chunk of flesh. He cried out. The other zombies obviously noticed the scuffle. Blaze ran from where he and Jandhyala had been talking. With a curse, Flanagan backed away and flung a knife at the zombie. He missed and the knife went into Blaze’s side just under his ribs.

“Whoa! What the hell?” Jandhyala said.

“You just had to practice, didn’t you!?!” Blaze yelled.

“Don’t blame me for this! Holy shit! Why’d you throw a knife?”

The zombie that had been watching Flanagan turned at the sound of Blaze’s voice and bit the youth in the face. Blaze screamed and fell to the ground. Two other zombies shambled towards the scuffle.

“Damn it!” Flanagan said.

He took out the .22 short automatic pistol from his pocket and opened fire on the zombies. The first bullet struck the zombie that had bit him in the back and it didn’t even flinch. The second bullet missed completely and the third bullet stuck that zombie in the head and the walking dead man went down and didn’t move again.

Jandhyala crept up behind the two zombies very quietly. One of them leaned down and ripped Blaze’s throat out. The other walked towards Flanagan. Then Blaze opened his eyes and climbed to his feet. He looked around and spotted Flanagan, then shuffled towards him. Flanagan pointed his gun at the little, undead punk, and pulled the trigger. There was a click and the gun jammed. He backed away with a curse.

Behind the other zombies, Jandhyala swung at one of the zombies but it lurched and he missed it completely.

Flanagan leapt forward and grabbed the knife out of the dead kid’s side, cursing at the child. He backed up. Jandhyala meanwhile swung again, this time so hard he flung the axe out of his hand and off to the left. The two zombies ahead of him stopped and turned, looking towards the sound. One walked towards the sound while the other looked towards Jandhyala. It didn’t seem to notice him and so followed the other zombie.

Blaze’s zombie suddenly ran at Flanagan, faster than any of the other zombies ever had, and tried to grab the man unsuccessfully. Flanagan stabbed the child in the left arm as it grabbed at him and he used it to try to hold off the youth. Jandhyala crept towards the two, picking up Blaze’s bat. Blaze grabbed at Flanagan, ripping his arm free of the knife by pushing forward and allowing the blade to simply tear up along the muscle. The child zombie managed to grab the man in a tight grip.

Flanagan stabbed wildly at the youth, cutting him in his already ragged throat. Jandhyala sneaked towards the fight, hoping the other zombies wouldn’t hear him. He crept up behind Blaze, who bit at Flanagan, tearing at his clothing without ripping through, yet, to the flesh. He stabbed at the kid again, cutting into his chest and not, seemingly, slowing him down at all. Then Jandhyala swung the baseball bat but it was only a glancing blow on the kid’s side.

Blaze bit at Flanagan but he squirmed and kept away from the teeth tearing at his clothing. He stabbed the kid again in the chest but it didn’t seem to help. Jandhyala brought the baseball bat down on the youth’s left shoulder but it was not a terribly effective blow and the zombie child didn’t seem to care. He bit at Flanagan again but the man squirmed away from the blow and stabbed the youth in the chest again.

Jandhyala struck the child another glancing blow and then Blaze finally bit the man he held in his death grip. Flanagan went limp. Upon seeing this, Jandhyala turned and fled back towards his apartment and his car. Behind him, Blaze ripped out Flanagan’s throat. Jandhyala glanced back and saw a second silhouette stand up from the fight.

Jandhyala had a 2001 Audi A3 two-door hatchback. He tossed the bloody baseball back into the passenger seat and was happy to see the tank was about three-quarters full. He decided to head up 221 in pursuit of the people the man on the road had mentioned. Every once in a while, he passed people shambling on or by the road. There were lights at the 221 Grocery and some kind of weird plant by the building, not far from a man lying on the ground. Another man stood under the canopy, in the light, and started to stumble after him as he drove past. He increased his speed a little bit, continuing up the road.

He had not quite reached the area of West Jefferson when he saw taillights ahead.

* * *

Floyd Wayne was driving more carefully down 221 since he, Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, and Dani Bateman had stolen the 2013 Jeep Wrangler from the 221 Grocery and fled the zombie and triffid there. He didn’t want another car accident. Skadooter had traded seats with Miss Bateman, putting him in the passenger seat and her in the back. He rode with the hunting crossbow on his lap. Wayne’s crossbow was in the back seat with Miss Bateman. They were heading for West Jefferson as Wayne had mentioned the Wal-Mart there and they hoped to get some better weapons and more supplies.

They had almost reached the area of West Jefferson and he thought he could see the lights of the town ahead when he saw headlights in the rearview mirror.

Oh shit, he thought.

The vehicle continued to gain on them as they continued on up the road. Soon, it was about 100 yards behind.

“Stop!” Skadooter said, looking at the rearview mirror on his side of the Jeep. “Stop the car! Stop the car. That’s gotta be humans, right?”

“I mean, yeah, that makes sense, but … do you really wanna stop?” Wayne said. “We don’t know what’s around here. I say we just … we’ll just keep going slow and they’ll eventually catch up with us.”

“That’s a good idea,” Miss Bateman said.

The car behind them flicked its high beams on and off.

“He needs help,” Skadooter said. “Actually, don’t stop. That guy’s drunk as ****!”

The car behind started honking its horn. It had pulled up close behind them. Wayne turned the hazards on and off and the car behind them did as well. Wayne cautiously came to a stop, looking around them carefully. Skadooter got out, crossbow in hand, pointing it at the car behind them, which had stopped about 50 feet back.

* * *

After the car ahead of him stopped, Abraham Jandhyala had pulled over. He was surprised and a little disturbed to see a solid-looking black man get out of the vehicle with a large crossbow with a telescopic sight on it. The man was decked out in camouflage clothing with a camouflage bandanna over his head. He pointed the crossbow at his car and yelled something unintelligible to him. Someone else called from the other vehicle but he couldn’t make out the words.

* * *

“Doot doot!” Skadooter yelled at the other car.

He walked quickly to the front of the vehicle.

“Careful Dooter!” Wayne called.

When Skadooter reached the car, it changed gears and backed away from him very slowly. He sat the crossbow on the ground and held up his hands.

“Friendly!” he said. “Doot doot!”

The car stopped and gears shifted. Skadooter walked over to the driver’s side and the windows rolled down to reveal an Indian man. He reached his hand into the window.

“What’s up, man?” he said.

“Hey,” Jandhyala replied, shaking hands with the man.

“How ya doin’?”

“Uh, not too great.”

“Not too great?”

“Ah … just … just two people died right in front of me.”

The Indian man looked a little nervous. Skadooter saw a bloody baseball bat in the passenger seat of the car.

“Dude, that sucks, man,” he said. “I’ve seen people die too. It’s not good.”

“Yeah, what’s going on?” Jandhyala asked.

“It’s hell out here.”

“Yeah. Where are you guys heading?”

“I … I got this guy with me. His name’s … uh … Floyd Wayne. He just … he said ‘Go to West Jefferson.’ I’m just doin’ it, man. Boone’s a shit town, dude; I’m outta there.”

“Okay, where in West Jefferson where you guys headed?”

“I don’t know, man. You can ask Floyd. You wanna come sit with us in the Jeep?”

Floyd got out of the Jeep, pulling out his crossbow and holding it in one hand. He stood by the door.

“Do you know who I am?” Skadooter asked. “It’s me, man. Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, man!”

“Oh, the football player,” Jandhyala said.

“Yeah! We won the championship! ASU! ASU!”

“Dooter! Shut the **** up!” Wayne called to him angrily.

“Ah, sorry Floyd,” Skadooter said. “Sorry. I just get hyped. I get hyped, man. Sorry.”

Wayne shook his head and put his left wrist to his forehead. Jandhyala saw that the man was missing his left hand.

“Does he need help?” he asked Skadooter.

“No, he’s fine, man!” Skadooter said.

“Are you sure?”

“Dude, Floyd’s a boss, dude. Don’t worry about it. You wanna get out of the car and talk to us though? It’s kind of weird talking through a windshield.”

“I should probably check out that wound.”

“What? What, are you like a doctor or some shit?”

“I’m an EMT.”

“Dude! We don’t have a doctor! Help us out, man!”

Skadooter pulled on the door handle but found it locked.

“Dude, come help Floyd, man,” he said. “What the ****?”

“Totally,” Jandhyala said.

He grabbed his medical kit out of the back seat and climbed out of the car, going to Wayne.

“Hey, that hand looks like it’s been messed up,” he said to the man.

“It is,” Wayne said. “Where you coming from?”

“I’m coming from Deep Gap. That area. The intersection of 221 and 421.”

“All right. We had a pretty nasty spill out there.”

“Yeah, we came across an overturned vehicle and there were, like, four zombies out there and two of the people I was with kind of like … died. We tried to take them on.”

“Yeah, so did I. And you can see what happened.”

“Dude, if you stay drunk or high, they don’t come for you as often,” Skadooter said.

He’d retrieved his crossbow and walked back over.

“It’s kind of weird,” he said.

They both looked at him.

“Is that so?” Jandhyala quietly asked Wayne.

The other man just shook his head.

“I … I don’t know what he’s thinking,” he said.

“Anyway, I’m an EMT,” Jandhyala said. “I can take a look at your hand and see if it’s dressed, at least, properly, and can clean up the wound.”

“That’d be nice,” Wayne said.

He looked around first but their part of the road was completely empty. Then Jandhyala examined the wound. It was pretty bad. When he released the tourniquet, blood began to ooze from the man’s wrist. His hand was completely gone. He smelled alcohol and antiseptic on the wound and noticed burn marks around the edge of the ragged wound. He replaced the tourniquet and redressed the wound as best he could. It was really a bad wound and he knew it would have to be watched carefully as gangrene was a real threat. The man needed to get to a hospital.

“Were you bit?” Jandhyala asked him.

“I was,” Wayne said.

“That like … turns people into zombies.”

“Well, here’s the thing. I was bit and then … um … pretty immediately afterwards, some ******* shot my arm off. Um … I been okay since then.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe we should … uh …”

“Well, how far is the nearest hospital?” Miss Bateman asked.

“It’s not far,” Wayne said.

“Do we want to go there? I feel like we should anyway to get materials.”

“It’s about 10 minutes from where we’re at,” Skadooter said in a brief moment of clarity. “I think.”

“Does this need medical attention or can we just pick stuff up at a CVS?” Wayne asked Jandhyala.

“We probably need medical attention ‘cause … I mean … you’ve got …” Jandhyala said.

Wayne sighed.

“Shit,” he said.

“… your arm is, like, open,” Jandhyala said.

“So, you can’t use, like, needles and dental floss to sew it shut?” Wayne said.

“Probably not. You don’t have enough extra skin to pull over the wounds, so we’d have to graft some.”

“You got some ‘roids on you?” Skadooter suddenly said. “Coach just used to give us ‘roids to get rid of everything!”

“That won’t work,” Jandhyala said.

“Yeah,” Miss Bateman said.

“Well, we tried a hospital in Boone and it was … busy,” Wayne said.

“Yeah, I would imagine it would be busy at this time,” Jandhyala said.

“Like bad busy,” Skadooter said. “Like zombie busy.”

“Oh,” Jandhyala said.

“The hospital we’re going to is in West Jefferson, you said?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Yeah,” Wayne said. “Less people.”

“Maybe that one’s not as bad,” she said. “Maybe we should try it, at least. I mean, we could pull up and see how it looks, at least.”

Jandhyala knew Ashe Memorial Hospital was in Jefferson. He’d transported people there.

“What about a vet?” he suggested.

“Wayne’s not an animal, man!” Skadooter said.

“There’d be even less people,” Wayne said.

“They still carry basic medical supplies,” Jandhyala said.

Wayne said he knew of two in the area of Jefferson. They discussed going to one of them for medical supplies.

“Listen, I hate to be that guy,” Skadooter said. “But can animals be zombies? Because I don’t want to deal with no zombie dogs, man. I don’t want to deal with that!”

“We haven’t seen any yet,” Wayne said.

“I’ve only seen human zombies,” Jandhyala said.

“Well, I ain’t seen a four-legged man but I’m still keeping my hopes up,” Skadooter said.

“Tell him no,” Wayne whispered to Jandhyala. “Just tell him no. Lie, I don’t care. We need to go somewhere.”

“Are you gonna follow us or are you gonna get in our car, man?” Skadooter asked Jandhyala.

“I think two cars is better than one,” Jandhyala said.

“That is true,” Miss Bateman said. “Just in case one gets messed up.”

“Two is more than one,” Skadooter said. “Math taught me that.”

“Yeah, totally it is,” Jandhyala said.

“So, instead of the hospital, we’re going to go to a vet,” Wayne said. “There’s one down the hill from the hospital.”

“I wanna ride with the new guy!” Skadooter said as Miss Bateman started to climb out of the car.

She was ready to not be riding with Skadooter anymore.

“New guy!” Skadooter said, raising his crossbow over his head like a Tusken Raider. “New guy!”

Jandhyala walked back to the car as Miss Bateman also headed back that way. When Skadooter saw her, he ran over to her.

“Yo, you be with Floyd!” he said to her.

“I’m leaving!” Wayne said.

He got in the Jeep and started it. Skadooter was only torn for a moment before he ran to the Jeep Wrangler. Miss Bateman climbed into the Audi with Jandhyala. The little caravan headed up the road.

As they approached West Jefferson and passed through the intersection at 163, they could see the entire area was dark. Light still came from somewhere ahead down 221, however, so they continued. Lowes, on their right, was also dark, but the light became brighter ahead and when they could see Wal-Mart and its parking lot, they saw the light. They also saw a good-sized group of people.

A lot of vehicles appeared to have been pulled into the parking lot and their lights left on, as the lights in the parking lot were dark. The noise of engines rumbled in the area and an air ambulance helicopter sat on the edge of the parking lot next to a good sized tent. Wayne had slowed and they could see more tents pitched in the parking lot as well as several bulky generators, all apparently running. It looked like a couple hundred people were out in the parking lot. Skadooter pointed out the generators and Wayne nodded.

It was dark everywhere else.

“Wayne, I never asked you, should I stay in the car?” Skadooter suddenly asked. “I know this is the south.”

“Nah, man, you’ll be okay,” Wayne said

“I’m in the camo. They’ll think I’m one of them, huh?”

“Yeah, you’ll fit in, man.”

Wayne was unsure what to do. He slowed as they drove down 221 and came to a stop, motioning with his nub. Jandhyala pulled up beside him and Miss Bateman rolled down the window.

“Should we go over there?” he asked.

“They’ve got an emergency helicopter,” Jandhyala said. “It may be able to fly you somewhere where you can get some help, or they might have some materials at the camp to work on it.”

“There’s a lot of people over there.”

Jandhyala noted there would be a pilot and co-pilot as well as at least a flight nurse from the helicopter.

“Well, we may as well go check it out,” Wayne said.

“Yeah, better to be around living people than …” Jandhyala said.

“Not,” Wayne finished.

“You guys want some weed?” Skadooter asked.

“Okay, let’s head that way, then,” Wayne said, ignoring him.

He drove the Jeep down 221 and pulled onto Campus Drive and then turned on 1149, the road connected to Wal-Mart. When they got closer, they could see cots were set out in the open in the few spots and several of the people carried hunting rifles or shotguns. Some folks were dressed in their nightclothes while others were fully dressed and some were even outfitted in camouflage clothing and hunting gear. A Jefferson police car and a West Jefferson police car were amidst the other vehicles in the parking lot as well, and they could see a couple men in uniform in the crowd. Leaning against the helicopter was a man in a flight suit, smoking a cigarette.

It seemed loud in the parking lot compared to everywhere else they’d been that night. The generators and car motors set up a low vibration in the air. Most of the cars with their lights on were pointed inward and the whole place had the look of a refugee camp. Wayne parked the car on the edge of the parking lot and Jandhyala pulled in a little behind and beside him.

“Let me handle this,” Skadooter said.

He climbed out of the Jeep, leaving his crossbow on the seat, and looked around.

“Doot doot!” he called out.

A few people nearby looked his way and some of them replied in kind. One man had an ASU jersey on and Skadooter jogged over to the middle aged white man with messy hair.

“Yer that … yer that guy,” the man’s southern accent was thick and came right through his nose.

“Skadooter!” Skadooter said.

“Dooter! You did that thing. Like, good. What they call that. Good thing.”

“Running back!”

“That’s it! You do it so well. You won the Championship.”

“I won it.”

“You got that touchdown.”

“I did.”

“I never went to college myself.”

“You don’t need to go so college! It’s overrated, man! I made D’s the whole way!”

“The power went out,” the man told Skadooter.

“In Ashe County?” Skadooter asked.

“I … I dunno. It went out in my house.”

“Where you at?”

The man pointed to the east.

“Ah, okay,” Skadooter said like he knew where the man was talking about.

The man told him the power had gone out and the phone was out too, and they couldn’t get through to call anyone to fix it as their cell phones had no signal. They decided to wait until morning but then noticed people in the yard. The people started to try to get in their house, which was strange because the people weren’t really violent, or didn’t seem to be, but acted like they were bored.

“I hate those kind of people, man,” Skadooter said.

“So we got in the car and left,” the man said. “And we saw the lights here and … I guess the lights are out in West Jefferson and Jefferson, so people are settin’ up here. That helicopter was here when we got here. I don’t know what they’re doin’ here. But there’s some hurt people and they set up a triage or whatever they call it. I watch M.A.S.H. I like M.A.S.H.”

“M.A.S.H. is a good show.”

“Anyway, from what I gathered, this happened to a lot of people east of Jefferson so they came to West Jefferson. The power’s out, nobody can get hold of anyone on their phones, and people showed up, so we’re all gatherin’ here ‘til someone comes.”

“How many guns you guys got?” Skadooter asked as he lit up a blunt.

“I don’t got any,” the man replied. “You got some? I like guns.”

“I got a crossbow in the Jeep.”

“That ain’t loud enough. I like loud things.”

Skadooter went to the Jeep to get his crossbow to impress his new friend.

* * *

Wayne got out of the car.

“I guess I’m going to handle this,” he said.

He headed for the air ambulance and was followed by Miss Bateman and Jandhyala. They passed the large camping tent next to the helicopter and could see several cots had been set up inside. There were at least a dozen people in the cots, most of them covered by blankets or fleece throws. A lady was in the tent wearing nurse’s scrubs and an old man in a somewhat out of date suit were there, the two of them tending to injured people. A pair of air ambulance coveralls was discarded on the floor near the entrance.

They walked over to the pilot.

“Do you know what’s going on here?” Wayne asked him. “Do you understand the severity of the situation we’re in?”

“Uh … no,” the pilot said. “No. We had put down here because we had trouble with the radio and all those meteor were coming down. So we had to put down in order to … we didn’t want to get hit.”

“So, you’re not here for rescue, you’re just down because you happened to be in the air?”

“Yeah. We put it down. It looks like it’s clearing up. We were going to head out and then all these people started showing up. Some of ‘em had some people who had gotten hurt, so … Miss Christian over there, she said we should get a triage set up and see who we could handle. What’s going on? The power’s out everywhere in this area. We weren’t even able to get through to Boone or any of the other hospitals on the radio.”

Wayne told him some kind of mass hysteria had struck the area. People were rioting and weren’t acting right. He decided not to mention zombies for fear of not being believed. He pointed out the missing hand.

“They did this to me,” he said.

“You need to get into the triage tent,” the pilot said. “Get Miss Christian to look at you. She’s only a nurse, she’s a flight nurse, but she can help you out. Looks like someone’s done a pretty good job there, though.”

He noted they were going to get out of there pretty soon. Wayne looked at Jandhyala.

“Let’s go check out the first aid tent,” he said. “See if they know what’s going on.”

The three headed over to the tent.

* * *

Courtney Dean was an average-looking but very tiny, energetic, and somewhat dumb cheerleader and junior at Appalachian State University. She had been in West Jefferson visiting her boyfriend, but when several people showed up in the yard, he sent her away while he dealt with it. She hadn’t seen him since, but had found the lit area at Wal-Mart and had been there ever since.

When she saw Skadooter, he was posing for pictures some other man was taking using a cell phone.

“Boop boop!” she said, getting his catchphrase wrong. “Hi!”

She walked over and got into the photo, doing duck face.

“Hey Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter!” she said.

“You know my whole name?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do!”

“Have you got enough pictures?” the little man in the football jersey said.

“No!” Skadooter said.

“Hey, you wanna take pictures?” the man asked Courtney.

“I wanna be in the pictures!” she replied.

The older man sighed.

“Who are you?” Skadooter asked the girl.

“I’m a cheerleader for your team!” Courtney said.

“Are you one of them girls on the sideline?” he asked, finally recognizing her.

* * *

Mikil Wolfgang was originally from Germany. He’d immigrated to the United States many years before. He was 69 years old and a doctor and surgeon, having practiced in the area for years. He was semi-retired but still helped at the local hospitals. When his power had gone out he’d come into town to help. He ended up at a triage tent set up at Wal-Mart where several people had gathered.

He was working with Nurse Christian, who had come in the air ambulance and had been there when he had arrived. The people in the triage had all been attacked by other people and, strangely enough, all of them had been bitten and were showing signs of some kind of infection. There were about 20 injured people in each of the large tents set up in the parking lot.

* * *

Jandhyala approached the tent and looked around nervously.

“I think you should ask since you’re the EMT,” Wayne said.

“Hey,” Jandhyala said to the nurse as he entered. “What are most of these injuries from?”

“Some people are attackin’ people,” the nurse said in a heavy southern accent.

“How so?”

“They’re getting attacked! Who are you?”

“EMT.”

He pulled out his certification card, which seemed to impress the nurse.

“We can use some help,” she said to him.

“No thanks,” he replied.

“We got a lot of people hurt here. We need to actually transport them to Boone or up here to the hospital─”

“It’s my day off.”

“What?”

“What do you mean, it’s your day off!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said in a thick, German accent.

“I don’t work today,” Jandhyala said.

The two looked at him, aghast.

“Did you not take the Hippocratic oath?” Dr. Wolfgang said to him.

“Are any of you hurt?” Nurse Christian asked.

“No,” Jandhyala said.

“Then get out!” she said.

“Okay,” he replied.

“If you’re not going to help, I got no use for you!”

Jandhyala left the tent.

“What did she say?” Wayne asked.

“They’re all bitten,” Jandhyala said. “We should leave. Most of these people were bitten. I can tell just by glancing at them. They’re either unconscious or not feeling too well. I don’t have a good feeling and want to leave.”

“So, what are you thinking of doing?” Miss Bateman asked Wayne.

“All these people are here, being bit,” Wayne said. “I don’t like it.”

“I don’t either,” Jandhyala said.

“I say we get in our cars and we get out of here,” Wayne said.

“These people turn fast,” Jandhyala spoke from terrible experience.

* * *

“Y’all are bit!?!” Skadooter yelled, having overheard part of his companions’ conversation.

He pointed his crossbow at the people around him and backed away from them.

“Dooter, get in the car!” Wayne yelled.

The guy with Skadooter’s phone backed away and Skadooter reached for the phone. The man reached as well, trying to stay as far from him as possible. As soon as he handed it off, the man turned and walked quickly away.

“Y’all are bit?” Skadooter yelled again.

“Boy, you better settle down!” someone shouted at him.

“You bit?” Skadooter yelled.

“Dooter! Get in the car!” Wayne yelled again as he headed for the vehicles.

“You better settle down, boy,” another man, this one armed with a double-barrel shotgun, said to Skadooter.

“Don’t call me boy, boy,” Skadooter said.

“Listen, you little shit!” the old man said.

* * *

“God damn it,” Wayne muttered. He raised his voice: “Dooter!”

He ran over between Skadooter and the old man with the shotgun and physically pushed Skadooter towards the car.

“Can I go with y’all?” Courtney asked.

“C’mon!” Skadooter said to her.

* * *

In the triage tent, one of the more seriously ill people suddenly sat up and climbed out of his cot.

“Sir, sir, you need to get back in your bed,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Nurse Christian went over to help and the man, who suddenly leaned forward, teeth bared, and ripped her throat out. Dr. Wolfgang screamed as the man attacked the man on the next cot, ripping out his throat as well.

“Security!” Dr. Wolfgang screamed.

The nurse was choking on her own blood on the ground while the man who had just been murdered also climbed up out of his cot. Dr. Wolfgang fled.

* * *

“There’s a helicopter comin’!” Skadooter said, pointing to the east.

They heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance and could see the flashing lights in the sky. Then the old man ran out of the triage tent.

“The patient is eating the other people!” he screamed.

“All right, we’re leaving,” Jandhyala said.

“Dooter, get in the car!” Wayne said.

Skadooter ran for the Jeep. Wayne and Courtney followed him while Jandhyala and Miss Bateman got into the little Audi. Dr. Wolfgang, seeing the people piling into vehicles, ran over to the Jeep with three people in it. The black man in the passenger seat had a large crossbow.

Several people had headed into the triage tent. A shotgun blast erupted from the tent and blew a hole in the back of it. Screams issued from the tent and from the people nearby. Some people ran towards the tent, mostly armed men and women, while others ran away. Several people suddenly came out of the darkness to the east; they looked very confused as they stumbled slowly, but with purpose, into the lights of the parking lot. A few other people ran into the light and fell upon those who were there.

The pilot climbed into the air ambulance and, moments later, the turbines began to whine loudly as the engine warmed up and the rotors started moving. More gunshots and screams issued from the triage tents. Someone stumbled out of the tent and attacked another person. An automobile on the other side of the parking roared into motion and crashed into a generator, knocking into a crowd of people and ripping it free of the lights it had been attached to, sending that part of the lot into darkness.

Skadooter pointed his crossbow at the Dr. Wolfgang’s face.

“Did you call me nigger?” he asked the man.

“Vhat does nigger mean!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Jandhyala had put his car into reverse and backed up enough for Wayne to the get Jeep out.

“Dooter, not now!” Wayne said. “Get in the damned car!”

“Did you call me nigger?” Skadooter said to the man again.

“No!” Dr. Wolfgang yelled.

“I don’t think he did!” Courtney said from the back seat.

Dr. Wolfgang grabbed the door handle and jerked the door open. Skadooter laid the crossbow down between the seats.

“Doot doot?” he said.

“Doot doot?” Dr. Wolfgang said uncertainly.

“Get it!” Skadooter said with a smile. “Get in!”

He dragged the old man into the Jeep and shoved him towards the back seat. Then he pulled the door closed again. They heard what sounded like automatic weapons fire from the approaching helicopter, then saw someone fall out of it and disappeared into the darkness. It looked like an older model military Bell UH-1 Iroquois. The vehicle seemed to be flying a little more erratically and they could now see there was some smoke coming from it.

Wayne put the Jeep into gear and floored it, peeling out and trying to spin around so he could make a quick escape. Unfortunately, he spun out, coming around about 90 degrees, and the car stalled. He quickly started it again and then turned and drove out of the turmoil of the parking lot a little more carefully. As he drove away, he saw more people stumbled out of the triage tent slowly, their mouths open.

“What ze **** was zhat!?!” Dr. Wolfgang cried.

“My history class told me Hitler was bad,” Skadooter said to him, pointing his crossbow at him. “Are you Hitler’s son?”

“No!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Wayne drove to Campus Drive, watching in his rear view mirrors. The helicopter continued to fly erratically until it struck Wal-Mart on the front top corner and broke up and exploded, burning aviation fuel spewing out and all over the front of the building and the nearby parking lot. He thought he saw the air ambulance get off the ground and head off to the east, several people hanging from it, and wasn’t sure if they were alive or dead. More gunfire erupted from the parking lot.

“Do you like football?” Skadooter asked Dr. Wolfgang, his crossbow still pointed at him.

“We really like football,” Courtney whispered to the old man.

“American football is best,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Skadooter grinned, put his crossbow down, and high-fived the man who flinched away from him.

“I like you, French-German-whatever guy,” Skadooter said.

Wayne stopped where Campus Drive intersected U.S. 221, about 500 yards from the madness in the parking lot. He wanted to talk to someone about what to do next, but didn’t trust anyone in his car.

“Can we get some music going in here?” Courtney said, tapping Wayne on the shoulder.

He sighed and rolled his eyes.

“You could always pull over and sidebar with the other car,” she said.

“What?” Wayne said.

“See if they have any ideas about where to go.”

“What?”

“And they might have some snacks!”

Jandhyala stopped his car behind the jeep until Wayne stuck his head out and then pulled up beside them. Wayne appeared to be on the verge of tears.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter said.

“Where are we going?” Wayne asked.

“Vet?” Jandhyala said.

“All right, let’s go to the vet,” Wayne said.

They turned right on U.S. 221 and headed up a little ways until they reached Mt. Jefferson Road, then turned left and followed the road into the darkened Jefferson until they reached South Main Street. They turned right and followed the road up about a mile until they reached the Animal Hospital of Ashe, pulling into the parking lot on the south side of the building. Next to it was a building marked Tractor Supply Company. They didn’t see many people as they went, though they spotted a few people, sometimes, in the distance, down side streets. The only person they saw nearby was a man in front of the Tractor Supply Company who seemed confused and was walking in a circle. He didn’t even pay the cars any mind as they passed.

They pulled up in front of the vet and killed both of the engines.

“Are we going to see puppies!?!” Courtney asked brightly.

Skadooter gave her a look.

“We’re going to have to break into this place,” Wayne said as he got out of the jeep.

“Easy,” Jandhyala replied. “I’ve got a baseball bat. And there are windows.”

Miss Bateman handed the man the bloody baseball bat.

“I threw my axe on accident,” Jandhyala said as he took it. “I went to swing it and I swung too hard, expecting to hit something that I missed. It flew out of my hand.”

“Good job, bud,” Miss Bateman said. “Good job.”

“Yeah, I’m not used to swinging giant axes at people,” Jandhyala said.

“Soon, though,” Skadooter said. “Soon.”

Jandhyala talked about putting nails into his wooden bat. Wayne walked to the front door.

“You want to use my credit card to pick the lock?” Courtney asked.

“No, we’ve got a baseball bat,” Jandhyala said.

He walked up and looked around. The only person around was the man in front of Tractor Supply, who didn’t seem to be paying any attention to them. Jandhyala asked why they didn’t go to Tractor Supply and Wayne pointed out they could.

“So, doot doot,” Jandhyala said.

“What did you say to me?” Skadooter said.

“Doot doot.”

“You say the n-word?”

“Stand watch.”

“Did you say the n-word?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Okay.”

“But, you stand next to the cars with your crossbow and protect anybody from that guy or any other people who come by.”

“What guy?”

“The guy over at Tractor Supply.”

Jandhyala pointed at the man.

“Because that dude’s a zombie, but─” Jandhyala said.

“Clearly,” Skadooter said.

“Look, there’s somebody over there!” Courtney said loudly.

The man apparently heard her and started to shuffle their direction.

“Okay, line up a shot, somebody, and take this guy out,” Jandhyala said.

Skadooter put his crossbow to his shoulder, aimed through the site, and fired. He missed.

“Skadooter, you’re so fine,” Courtney chanted. “You can hit him any time!”

He started reloading his crossbow.

“Shit!” Wayne said.

“It’s going to take him an hour to get here!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“There’s six of us,” Wayne said. “Let’s get rid of this guy.”

“From a distance,” Jandhyala said. “I’ve seen what they can do up close.”

Wayne took his own crossbow out of the car and took a shot at the man. His bolt also flew off into the darkness, missing. Skadooter’s next shot was accompanied by the snap of the bowstring as it broke.

“God damn it!” Skadooter yelled.

He flung the crossbow at the man but it fell far short. He looked at Wayne.

“Yours,” he said.

He held his hands like he was holding a crossbow. Wayne aimed and fired again, thinking he meant the zombie was his to kill. The bolt missed. Skadooter was a little upset as he had expected Wayne to give him the crossbow. Wayne reloaded and fired again but missed once more as the man slowly approached. On the next shot, his own bowstring broke. He cursed.

“Who’s got weapons here beside me?” Jandhyala asked.

“I have a butcher knife,” Miss Bateman said.

Skadooter drew the hunting knife he had gotten. He looked at everyone.

“Should I go get him?” he asked.

“No,” Jandhyala said.

“Should I go get him?”

“I don’t think anybody’s voting for that,” Miss Bateman said.

“Guys, maybe we should just to talk to him,” Courtney said.

She started walking towards the zombie.

“Courtney, no!” Skadooter said.

“Oh, okay,” she said.

Wayne was getting really angry. He glared at the zombie.

“Dooter, you have it,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Go get him.”

“We are,” Skadooter said. “We are. We are.”

Courtney walked over to the front door of the veterinarian’s office. Dr. Wolfgang followed her. It had a large window in it but it was locked.

Miss Bateman said she thought the zombie might forget about them once they were out of sight in the building. Jandhyala said it was worth a try. He went over to the door and shattered the glass with his baseball bat. They discussed throwing something at the zombie to distract it. Courtney picked up several rocks from the parking lot and flung them in its direction, but it ignored them. It seemed focused on them and was getting closer.

Wayne climbed back into the Jeep.

“Get out of the way,” he said.

He backed up, turned the jeep around and then drove slowly at the zombie. He sped up a little bit as he approached the thing and then turned to hit it with the front corner of the car as he approached. The zombie went down under the car and he peeked out the driver’s side window. The zombie was under the tire, most of its chest crushed by the vehicle. Still, it struggled to get to Wayne though it was completely pinned. Wayne got out on the passenger side and walked back to the rest.

Jandhyala had finished clearing the broken glass out of the door. Skadooter ran over to him.

“What’d coach say?” he asked. “What’d coach say?”

“We’re going to the vet to get the guy some better medicine,” Jandhyala said.

“You follow me?”

“What? Why?”

“You follow me?”

“No, you follow me.”

“I follow you?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Jandhyala climbed through the window and tried the light switch on the wall of the small foyer. Nothing happened. The inner door, also with a glass window, was unlocked and opened into a reception area and waiting room. They all crept into the place and searched as best they could in the dark.

Jandhyala, Wayne, and Dr. Wolfgang headed behind the reception desk where the drugs were apparently kept. They grabbed everything they could that might possibly be useful. Dr. Wolfgang asked about Wayne’s hand and he showed him the wound. Jandhyala also found the drugs used to put animals to sleep. He took some and found syringes to use with it.

Miss Bateman started to pull kibble and canned dog food off the shelves and pile them by the door. She figured they could eat it if they got desperate. She asked if there was anything else they could use. Wayne told her they’d go to Tractor Supply for other stuff. She noted there were probably snacks and such at the checkout there as well. Then she noticed a small rack of snacks on the counter right there. She grabbed them and stuffed them in her backpack.

Courtney found half a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced rum in one of the desk drawers.

“I found the alcohol, guys!” she called happily.

She and Skadooter wandered into the back where the dogs and cats in various cages set up a racket. She continued looking for alcohol, as she’d been told, and he eyed the animals suspiciously, fearing zombie dogs. Then he started opening up the cages to let them all free. Courtney found a tiny three- or four-month-old German shepherd puppy female with the name “Killer” on the cage. She had stitches on her belly and was listed as being “neutered” with that day’s date for release. She released the puppy and kept it.

They left the vet and headed over for Tractor Supply. The zombie remained trapped under the Jeep tire as they broke into the place and started looting everything they could find. Wayne found buckets of long term emergency rations and started carting them out to the cars. Jandhyala found a machete and a bush axe, taking one of each. Several others took machetes too. Courtney found some pink camouflage clothing and put it on.

There was also camping gear, hunting supplies, game hoists and 24-mile walkie-talkies. There were plenty of tools like shovels, picks, and even mattocks, which Wayne was happy about. He replaced his lost mattock. There were a good deal of fishing supplies and they took them as well. Jandhyala got a lot of extra fishing line too. He also got long nails to put into his baseball bat when they had more time and a wood axe. Wayne got some small winches.

Courtney’s puppy ran all around the store, slipping on the smooth concrete and trying to love everyone. She made sure to get treats and a little squeaky toy.

Wayne made sure Courtney had practical clothes before they left. Everyone got some hiking boots that fit them as well. He also got several sleeping bags as well as hose to use for siphoning gas if they needed it.

It was dawn before they were finished and they saw a few vehicles moving along the street, as if people were going to work. Wayne wanted to get a trailer for the jeep but found it didn’t have a hitch so decided against it.

They discussed where to go and, after a short discussion, decided it was probably best to head for the coast via Interstate Route 40. Jandhyala pointed out zombies couldn’t swim and asked if they’d read the Zombie Survival Guide. Courtney was excited about going to the beach. In one of her moments of clarity, she also suggested they go where there would be less traffic. Miss Bateman thought they should head somewhere not as crowded, like Shallotte. Wayne was for going to the coast or heading north. In the end, they voted for heading down to Interstate 40 and the coast.

They headed out of the area in the two vehicles as the sun rose, the smoke from the burning Wal-Mart still thick in the sky behind them. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1960-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Five
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Four http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1959-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Four Thu, 26 Nov 2015 15:28:31 GMT Tuesday, November 24, 2015 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Joey Scott, Kyle Matheson, and Hannah... Tuesday, November 24, 2015

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Joey Scott, Kyle Matheson, and Hannah Gambino Friday, November 20, 2015, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:15 p.m.)

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Sofia Rosita Mariana Fernando Vasquez II Junior drove the stolen car out of Boone, North Carolina, heading east on U.S. Highway 421 towards Deep Gap. Riding shotgun was Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter while in the back was Floyd Wayne and Jorman Flanagan. They had escaped the horrors of the city filled with zombies though falling stars still fell in the sky all around them.

Skadooter suddenly started shouting he had to pee, making a huge deal out of it until Miss Vasquez pulled over, very angry, and turned off the vehicle. Both Skadooter and Wayne got out, though Miss Vasquez didn’t notice the latter open his door at the same time as the athlete. While Wayne headed into the woods, roll of toilet paper in hand, Skadooter stopped by the hood of the 4Runner they’d stolen, grinned at Miss Vasquez, and then took out the bag of cocaine he’d found in the Honda Fit they’d raided earlier. He poured some cocaine on the hood, cut it with his ASU student id, and then snorted it up with a rolled up dollar bill. Then he raised both arms and gave her a look.

“Doot doot!” he said.

He backed away and then turned to walk into the tree line to urinate. While he was doing so, he heard the car start up and then drive away.

Wayne, relieving himself further away in the woods, heard the car pull off too.

Da ****? he thought. I’m so mad right now!

He finished, wiped, and ran out of the woods. The car was gone and Skadooter stood there, looking around vaguely. All they had was the single roll of toilet paper, Wayne’s mattock, and Skadooter’s fire axe from the hospital. Wayne looked around and realized they were just west of Deep Gap near where U.S. Highway 221 headed north of 421. Angry, he wondered whether they should continue down 421 or head up 221.

“That *****!” Skadooter said.

He looked around.

“Doot doot!” he cried.

“Shut the **** up!” Wayne hissed at him.

After the echo went away, he listened carefully but it was very quiet. He saw no vehicles or anything else in the vicinity. The stars falling seemed to have thinned out.

“We’ve got our choice between hick town, this way,” he said pointing down 421 to the east. “Or hick town this way.” He pointed vaguely to the northeast, where he guessed West Jefferson lay. “Hick town this way is probably going to take a little more time than hick town this way.” He pointed to the northeast and then the east again.

“Hm,” the other man said. “Skadooter don’t like waitin’.”

“All right,” Wayne said. “This one’s on a bigger road. This one is a little two lane.”

“Skadoo thinks we should stay on the small road, then,” Skadooter said.

“Small road?” Wayne said. “All right then, I guess we’re going to head towards West Jefferson.”

“You want some of this before I bag it up?” Skadooter asked, brandishing the quart bag of cocaine.

“No,” Wayne said. “I think I’m doing good. I’m still a little loopy from all the blood loss.”

“I’m hella loopy right now,” Skadooter said.

Everything was awesome for him.

“It’s pretty good except for the fact that that ***** left us,” he said.

“All right, I guess,” Wayne said. “****.”

They continued down U.S. Highway 421 towards U.S. Highway 221. They passed the Pepsi bottling place on the left and were approaching a small road on that same side of the highway, only a quarter of a mile from the yellow-flashing U.S. Highway 221 stoplights, when they saw a light suddenly appear in a house on the hill a few hundred yards to the left.

“I don’t think they know how to do that,” Skadooter said. “That’s prob’ly a person.”

“Maybe,” Wayne said. “Out here in the middle of nowhere, I doubt they know what’s going on.”

“They might have a car.”

“Well … I say we at least go up there and check it out.”

“I’m gonna go knock on the door and tell ‘em it’s Skadooter.”

“Hey.”

Skadooter jogged up the little road apparently called Yuma Lane.

“They might know you,” Wayne called after him.

Skadooter jogged about halfway up the road before he had to stop to catch his breath. The cocaine was really messing with his head and the road kept going back and forth, it seemed. Wayne, watching from the highway, saw Skadooter run from one side of the road to the other, almost as if he were running serpentine up the lane before he stopped about halfway, hands on his knees.

“What the hell’s up with this road!?!” Skadooter yelled back at Wayne.

That boy ain’t right, Wayne thought.

Skadooter started running up the road again and, from his vantage, he could see some people wandering across a nearby field. They appeared to be glowing slightly and he realized the two people were skipping. It was also brighter out, it seemed. There were so many flowers beside the road. He stopped.

“Wayne!” he stage whispered to the man, who was at least 100 yards away. “Wayne.”

He could see Wayne’s silhouette on the highway, but then he was right in front of him, but then he was gone again.

“Wayne!” he whispered again. “Wayne.”

Wayne, still standing in the middle of 421, saw Skadooter start up the hill again and then simply stop and look back at him. Skadooter pointed to one side and Wayne thought he saw two silhouettes crossing the field nearby. They weren’t heading his direction so he jogged up to Skadooter.

From Skadooter’s really high perspective, it looked like Wayne ran to him and then back and then ran up and back and then up and back again. He finally actually arrived. By then, they both saw the light had gone off in the house.

“Why’d you stop?” Wayne asked him when he reached him.

“Monsters over there,” Skadooter whispered back.

“Wha … I … yeah … I mean. So what? They ain’t botherin’ you.”

“I’m just really scared right now. Doot doot.”

“How ‘bout, hey. Let’s go see these people.”

“Oh yeah!”

Skadooter ran towards the house, going about 50 feet before he ran off the side of the road and fell flat into the dirt. To Skadooter, it had looked like the road had climbed and gone over his head. Wayne went over to the youth and picked him up.

“The ****’s wrong with you, boy?” he said.

“I know this may be hard to believe but this is my first time doing cocaine,” Skadooter said. “This stuff’s pretty crazy.”

“You did what?”

“That bag. The bag of stuff I showed you.”

“That’s what you got?”

“It’s right here. Yeah.”

“Holy shit, boy! Oh my God! This is not the time! If anything, you save that for later!”

“I still got some.”

“No. Well, God. Hold onto it.”

“Okay.”

“Apocalypse, you can trade that shit.”

“Okay. I won’t do anymore.”

“Promise.”

“Mmmm.”

“Man, **** you! Let’s go!”

“Okay.”

They continued on up to the house. A pole light out front lit the area but the house was otherwise dark. It was two stories with gabled windows on the sides. A garage was attached to the right side of the building and there were many windows. The front porch was merely a stoop.

Skadooter knocked on the door.

“Hold on, son,” Wayne said. “Let me talk. Please.”

Skadooter moved off the stoop and then moved to the right and peeked into the darkened windows. He couldn’t see much of anything.

“You think I could jump through these, like you see in the movies?” he asked.

“No! Don’t!” Wayne hissed. “Please don’t.”

He put down his mattock and knocked a little harder on the door. He looked over at Skadooter.

“Someone’s in here,” he said.

“We know that,” Skadooter said. “There has to be somebody in there.”

He stepped away from the window as he thought he’d seen a doll looking at him. Wayne knocked a little harder on the door, pounding with his fist.

* * *

Dani Bateman had just gotten back to sleep after using the bathroom in the middle of the night. She woke to the sound of someone knocking loudly on her front door. She looked at the clock; it was 2:30 in the morning. She got up and went to the front window of her bedroom upstairs and tried to see who was there. A tall man with graying hair stood on the front stoop, knocking loudly. He looked a little raggedy.

The entire upstairs of her house was one big bedroom. The windows were open and the cool July air was brought into the room by the fan set in one of them.

She headed downstairs, turning the lights on as she went.

* * *

When Wayne saw the lights coming on in the house through the glass panes in the door, he stopped banging and stepped back. The woman who opened it was very tall, almost six and a half feet. She had Native American features and was slim. She was pretty, had long dark hair, and appeared rather fit. She wore pajamas.

Skadooter ran over to Wayne and the woman quickly shut the door again.

“Who are you guys?” she asked through the door.

“I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am,” Wayne said. “You don’t know me. You might know my friend here. He’s the star quarterback of Appalachian State.”

“Running back!” Skadooter said.

“Running back. Football.”

“Skadooter!”

“Um … we ran into some trouble out here on the road. We’d really appreciate some help.”

“Do you have a car?”

“Not now!”

“So, what do you need?” she asked.

“Oh, we just …” Wayne said. “Ma’am, we don’t know how familiar you are with what’s going on right now. Um … things aren’t nice.”

“It’s bad out here!” Skadooter said.

“What are you talking about?” Miss Bateman said. “Are you guys on drugs or something?”

“I’m not,” Wayne said.

“Welp!” Skadooter said. “Doot doot.”

She noticed Skadooter’s eyes were very dilated and guessed he was high on something.

“Okay, so what’s going on?” she asked. “What’s happening because I have no idea what you’re talking about?”

“Listen, ma’am, I don’t know if you’re aware … but shit’s happening,” Wayne said. “So we had to get out of Boone in a hurry.”

Neither Wayne nor Skadooter noticed the man come around the side of the garage and start to shamble slowly towards them.

“Okay, well, I’m just going to call the cops so … if you guys want to leave, that would be awesome,” Miss Bateman said.

“Please!” Wayne said.

“You can stay here,” Miss Bateman said. “The cops are coming.”

“I don’t think the cops are coming,” Skadooter said. “They’re probably busy.”

“Please,” Wayne said. “Please call the cops.”

“What?” she said.

“I would love nothing more for the cops to show,” Wayne said.

Just then, both men noticed motion in their peripheral vision and turned to their right at the same moment. Their eyes went wide. A man stumbled towards them, mouth open. He wore pajamas and nothing else. He was middle-aged with brown hair going gray at the temples.

Wayne grabbed his mattock and swung it around at the man’s head. The blow struck the man in the jaw and tore his face and chin, the blow actually catching the man’s jaw and ripping it free of the right side of his face. It partially dislocated at a terrible angle, his tongue hanging out as well. The man didn’t slow down or speak.

Skadooter moved around the side of the dead man and brought his fire axe down on the back of the man’s neck. The blade went too low and cut into the side of the man. It didn’t slow him at all though there was a lot of blood. The zombie turned towards him and tried to bite him on the shoulder without much effect due to the lack of a lower jaw. It felt more like a bludgeoning blow.

“Get off me!” he cried. “****er!”

* * *

In the house, Miss Bateman ran towards the kitchen to get a knife.

* * *

Wayne grabbed at the dead man’s collar but was unable to pull him off Skadooter. The athlete dropped his axe and punched the man in the temple as hard as he could. The man stumbled but did not fall and then tried to grab at Skadooter and bite him.

“Get off me!” Skadooter cried.

Wayne moved behind the man and tried to get him in a headlock without luck. The man ignored him.

“Let me get him!” Skadooter said.

Wayne backed off and Skadooter tried to grab the man around the midsection, hoping to pin the man’s arms and then move behind him. Instead, he grabbed the man under his arms and was unable to shimmy around. It put the zombie in a perfect position to bite as his neck. Fortunately, the thing only managed to lick his neck with its tongue as it tried to bite him.

“Ow!” Skadooter yelled. “I got him right where I want him.”

Miss Bateman flung open the door of the house. She recognized the man in the pajamas as one of her neighbors on Yuma Lane.

“You guys need to back up!” she yelled. “This is my neighbor!”

“He’s not your neighbor anymore!” Skadooter yelled.

Wayne picked up his mattock and brought it down on the man’s back, much to Skadooter’s dismay.

“No no no no!” Skadooter cried.

The mattock glanced off the back of the dead man’s neck and blood splattered all over Skadooter. When he realized he had not been hit by the mattock, he tried to get a better grip on the man in pajamas. He slid around behind the man, still grappling him.

Miss Bateman burst out through the screen door and stabbed her neighbor in the leg. The man didn’t cry out but merely continued to struggle with Skadooter. Wayne walked around the man and swung his mattock at the man’s chest. He cut the man pretty badly but the man continued to fight and struggle. Then Skadooter picked up the bloody man and fell backwards, slamming the man into the ground behind him. There was an audible snap as the man’s neck broke. Then the body convulsed as Skadooter crawled quickly away. The corpse jerked around for a few moments before it finally lay still.

“Jesus Christ!” Miss Bateman said as Skadooter stood up. “What the ****?”

“Skadoots!” Skadooter said.

He got his face into the dead man’s face.

“Doot! Doot!” he cried.

Then he looked at her.

“You gonna call the cops?” he said.

“I - I’m probably gonna call the cops,” she said.

“Good! Good!”

She stared at the dead body of her neighbor in shock. She held the knife pointed at the two men. Skadooter picked up his fire axe. He walked to the porch and then looked around for anything else coming. Wayne had dropped to his knees, dizzy from the sudden exertion.

“That wasn’t a person,” he said. “It’s not people. You saw!”

“Okay, so what was that?” she said. “Because that was my neighbor!”

“Not anymore it weren’t.”

“Not anymore? Obviously, ‘cause he’s dead, but what happened?”

“Naw! I don’t know what happened to him.”

He leaned his mattock against the house and she noticed, for the first time, one of his hands was missing. His left wrist was wrapped in bloody gauze. She finally pointed the knife down.

“Okay, what happened to your arm?” she asked.

“One o’ him happened to my arm!” he said.

He pointed at her neighbor.

“If I didn’t get lucky, he would have turned all of us into one o’ him,” he went on.

“Okay, so this is a zombie situation,” she muttered.

“A what?” he said. “Like Dawn of the Dead?”

“Like Walking Dead.”

“What?”

“Like … Night of the Dead, maybe?”

“I … zombie. Dawn of the Dead. That’s all I hear.”

“That’s what it seems to be.”

Skadooter spotted some people shambling around down on 421.

“This can’t no zombie thing!” he suddenly said. “The black guy always dies first!”

“He’s high,” Wayne said. “Ignore him.”

“Yeah,” Skadooter said with a smile. “You want some?”

“No,” she said.

“Ma’am, you have a car we can borrow?” Wayne asked her.

“I do have a car but is there any reason for me to leave as well?”

“I don’t think you should stay here.”

“Where is this all at? Where did it start?”

“We just came from Boone.”

“Meteors,” Skadooter said.

He pointed to the sky.

She could see a few shooting stars in the distance, mostly to the west.

“I heard about stuff happening, but I thought it was just a bunch of crazy stuff,” she said.

“Naw,” Wayne said. “Boone is gone. We’re trying to go somewhere a little less populated but …”

Skadooter stared at the falling stars.

“You can’t stay here,” Wayne said.

“All right,” she said.

“This ain’t safe no more.”

“I’ll go with you. Just let me get my stuff, I guess.”

“Can I drive?” Skadooter suddenly said.

“**** no,” she said.

“If you have any high proof alcohols, grab ‘em,” Wayne said.

“Come in with me and get whatever you need,” she said.

“Okay.”

The three of them entered the house. The ground floor was one large room with a kitchen in the back and two doors that led to the only rooms: a bathroom and a small guest bedroom. Stairs went up to a door as well. It was decorated in old American style with plenty of modern features. Another door in one wall probably led to the attached garage.

Wayne went to the bathroom and found the aspirin, popping a couple and grabbing other medical supplies and alcohol he could find. Skadooter grabbed canned foods out of the cupboards. He also found crackers and other non-perishable foods. He also found several bottles of water and put them on the counter as well.

“You got anything to defend yourself with?” Wayne called from the bathroom.

“I got this knife,” she replied.

“You got anything better?”

“Guns!” Skadooter said. “We need guns!”

“I have some lawn supplies in the garage,” she said.

She knew there was an electric weed eater and a riding lawnmower, as well as some old lawn darts of her parents and a long piece of pipe. That was about it.

“Djew see the newest episode of Walking Dead?” Skadooter asked her.

“I haven’t kept up this season,” she said. “How did it go?”

“This is what they would get ‘cause …” he lowered his voice to a whisper. “… we’re in the Walking Dead now. We’re the Walking Dead.”

He was having a strange, drug-induced epiphany.

“Do you have any alcohol?” Wayne asked, coming out of the bathroom with supplies. “Any at all?”

“There’s some wine,” she said.

“No vodka or anything like that?”

“No.”

She gathered some camping stuff from hiking trips she’d gone on. There was a backpack, small tent, and sleeping bag, as well as a little propane stove.

“We can’t stick around here much longer,” Wayne said. He pointed to Skadooter. “That ******* needs to eat something.”

“Yeah!” Skadooter said.

He was looking at his phone. He had made a Facebook post that read “We’re the Walking Dead now.” Then his Facebook Messenger beeped. It was his friend, a freshman who lived in Cannon Hall.

“Skadoots,” the message read. “I’m so ****ing high right now.”

“Same broski,” Skadooter wrote back. “Same.”

“What’s going on with these people in ASU? They’re like people are ****ed up. Somebody drove crashed a car. I can see it from my dorm.”

“You guys stay inside right now.”

“I saw there was girls. They crashed a car. There’s a girl.”

“What girls?”

“I don’t know. She was a girl. There were two guys with her.”

“One to ten.”

“I’m on the fifth floor!”

“Bruh! One to ten though.”

“… … … I’d give it a seven.”

“All right.”

“Hold on. Somebody’s at the door.”

“You should probably go check that. I’ll talk to you later.”

He put the phone away but it beeped a couple minutes later.

“Oh shit!” his friend sent. “Some ****er bit me.”

“That’s not good,” Skadooter wrote back. “Aw man. That sucks dude. RIP.”

“What are you talking about??? I lost my buzz. What’s ****ing going on? Oh shit! There’s a bunch of them out there.”

“Dude, I’m busy right now.”

He smirked.

Wayne and Miss Bateman were talking about the zombies and how the thing was spread.

Skadooter’s phone beeped as he got a Skype call. He saw it was the same guy he’d been texting.

“Answer that!” Wayne said. “Answer it! You know who that is? Answer it!”

“Nah,” Skadooter said.

“Why not?”

“My friend got bit and now he’s *****in’ about it.”

Wayne just stared at him.

“Look … we need to get out of here,” he finally said. “You need to eat something.”

He turned to Miss Bateman.

“All right,” Wayne asked her. “So, you’ve got a Lincoln Navigator.”

“Uh-huh,” she said.

“Back seat!” Skadooter said. “Called it!”

“How much do we have packed into this?” Wayne asked. “How much can we get into it?”

“We should take everything we can!” Skadooter said.

The car in the garage was a 2001 Lincoln Navigator, a big SUV. It looked like it was in good shape. Skadooter started loading the truck up with the food and water he’d found while Miss Bateman put in her camping gear. He found two five gallon jugs filled with water in the garage as well so he put them in too.

“Yo, does it have a DVD player for the back seat?” Skadooter asked her.

“No,” she said.

“Fack!”

“Calm down.”

“Fack!”

Skadooter climbed into the back seat with his fire axe.

Wayne had filled his pockets with everything he’d gotten from the bathroom. Then he asked if Miss Bateman had any men’s clothing. He was specifically looking for underwear. They found an extra pair that was her father’s. He’d left them one time when visiting. Unfortunately, they were small for Wayne. He found some socks as well.

“Anything else you can think of?” Wayne said to her as they entered the garage. “Because shit has hit the fan. We ain’t coming back. If there’s anything … personal effects you want to take.”

“You wanna dig up, like, a dead pet and take it with us?” Skadooter said from the back seat.

“For ****’s sake!” Wayne said.

Wayne got into the passenger seat as Miss Bateman took the wheel. There was a GPS sitting on the dashboard and, when she started the car, there was about a quarter of a tank of gas. Wayne said he knew the closest gas station was a few miles up 221. He said if they headed for West Jefferson, he knew a place they could fill up. Miss Bateman knew about the gas station and he guessed they would still have power.

“When we get there, we need to check for extra gas cans,” he said.

She pushed the button on her automatic garage door opener and, as the door went up, they saw two people standing right outside the garage door, facing it. It was Miss Bateman’s neighbor’s wife and little girl both standing there in their pajamas.

“Floor it!” Skadooter said.

“It’s not them!” Wayne said.

“Floor it!”

“It’s not them!”

The two walked forward slowly and Miss Bateman put the car into gear and gunned it. The Lincoln Navigator leapt out of the garage with a squeal, running down the two. The seven-year-old girl vanished under the front of the SUV without a sound. Her mother was taller, however, and as the Navigator struck her she crashed over the top of the hood and slammed into the windshield. She started clawing at the glass as the vehicle tore down the driveway. In a panic, Miss Bateman turned on the windshield wipers. The other woman grabbed one with one hand.

“Stop!” Wayne said, his voice growing louder. “Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!”

Miss Bateman slammed on the brakes and the woman flew off the car and hit the ground, rolling over and over again before landing in a heap off the side of the road. Then Miss Bateman floored it again, tearing down Yuma Lane. As they passed the smashed woman, she sat up again and reached a hand towards the vehicle.

They tore down to 421 and turned left towards 221, Miss Bateman driving recklessly fast.

“Hold on,” Wayne said, hitting Miss Bateman with his nub. “Calm down.”

She swerved around one of the cars stalled in the road and turned hard to the left as she applied the brake. It wasn’t enough, however, and as they made the turn, the SUV rolled. The car rolled once completely over and then came to rest on the passenger side, the glass on that side shattering out of the windows. Both Wayne and Skadooter were injured and the automobile stalled out. The windows on the driver’s side were intact, as was the windshield, though there was a large crack in it.

“I told you to let me drive!” Skadooter screamed.

Miss Bateman braced herself then unbuckled herself and looked at Wayne who lay moaning in pain.

“Hey!” she said. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” he mumbled.

“Can you unbuckle?”

In the back seat, Skadooter climbed out of the driver’s side back door. Wayne unbuckled and she asked if he could get out. He said he thought he could. She tried to fiddle with the sunroof but nothing happened when she pushed the button.

“We need to flip it quick!” Skadooter said to them.

“I’m here,” Wayne muttered.

Atop the car, Skadooter saw several people shuffling their way.

“Zombies coming,” Skadooter said with a grin.

Miss Bateman lowered the electric window on the driver’s side and she climbed out.

“Scooter!” she said to Skadooter. “Scoot!”

“Skadoot-er!” he said.

“Help me get−”

“All star running back for the Mountaineers!”

“Help me get Floyd out of the car. Please.”

“****ing Skadooter!” Wayne said.

“Hi Wayne,” Skadooter replied.

He reached into the car and pulled Wayne out with one great heave leaving him sitting on the edge of the door. There were at least five zombies shambling towards the car. He looked back into the car.

“We can’t risk it,” he said. “We need to make a run for it.”

“You’re right,” Miss Bateman said.

“We need to go. Now.”

“We definitely need to go that way though.”

She pointed up 221.

They all climbed down off the wreck and ran up 221, avoiding the zombies who slowly shambled after them. They had nothing but the medical supplies Wayne had stuffed into his pockets. They passed several dark houses and jogged for nearly a mile until they saw a church to the left. They walked from there to catch their breath.

“Are we going to the gas station still?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Doot doot,” Skadooter said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Wayne replied. “The gas station, even when we rolled, it’s going to have what we need.”

“Well, we might as well go there and see what they have,” she said.

“I mean, if anything, it’ll have … medication.”

He sighed.

“They’d have something,” he said.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Ooh. They’d have beef jerky is what they’d have.”

They passed another church on the left and a few buildings on either side of the road. They saw no automobiles. Shortly after they passed the church, they saw a chain link fence with barbed wire across the top on the left side of the road. Wayne didn’t remember it being there the last time he’d been there though he’d heard rumors of some botanical company setting up some kind of greenhouse in the area.

“This does not look familiar,” Wayne said.

Miss Bateman told him about a new botanical garden in the area. She’d only heard a little bit about it. He told her the gas station was right next door to a very large, expensive house. She asked if anyone would be there and he guessed if there was, it’d only be an old man. It was a mansion on West Pine Swamp Road.

When they had walked another half mile, they saw a building to the left with a sign that read “New River Archery Supply.” The lights on the sign were off. The front of the building had a set of glass doors and wide glass windows. They could see a single light burning within. The chain link fence ran around behind the building and continued closer to the road on the other side.

“This is meant to be,” Wayne said when he saw it.

He headed across the parking lot and the others followed him. He looked into the front windows and saw a single fluorescent light on in the middle of the room. There were shelves filled with archery supplies. He was disappointed he couldn’t see any crossbows. The whole place looked pretty rough. The back wall had an interior door set into it and he guessed there was a large back room as well.

Wayne tried the front door but found it locked.

“Lemme kick it!” Skadooter said.

“Can I at least find a rock first?” Wayne asked.

“Skadooter’s foot is stronger than a rock.”

Wayne found a good-sized rock and smashed the window next to the door. He was happy not to hear any alarms go off despite the First Alert sticker on the window. The three of them climbed into the building.

There was camouflage clothing, paintball supplies, numerous bows and arrows, crossbows of various sizes and bolts, and even tree stands and other hunting supplies. Wayne was happy to find paintball masks, elbow pads, knee pads, protective gloves, and even athletic cups. The place had several composite bows and even the cheap bows he remembered using in middle school. Beef jerky and pork rinds stood on the counter as well as a jar of pickled eggs. Confederate flags hung behind the counter.

Skadooter picked up the largest crossbow, which was equipped with a stirrup in the front necessary to cock the massive thing and a telescopic sight. Wayne picked up a heavy crossbow for himself that he thought he could reload with one hand, also with a stirrup on the front and a telescopic sight.

Skadooter started to take off his clothing to change into camouflage. Wayne decked himself out in protective gear including the paintball knee and elbow guards, gloves, and a mask. Skadooter followed suit and also got some protective gear on. He was especially careful to make sure he held onto his weed and cocaine and filled his backpack with crossbow bolts. He smoked a bowl after he was decked out and had his new weaponry. Wayne found a camouflage backpack and loaded it with all of the beef jerky at the counter. He also found hunting knives and suggested they all get backpacks.

Miss Bateman got some clothing and a backpack. She also found some light cloth camouflage clothing and tucked it into the backpack to use for possible bandages later. She tore a few of the outfits into bandages and then tended to the wounds the men had sustained in the car wreck.

Skadooter and Wayne both heard a noise from the front of the building where they’d broken in. A man was climbing in through the broken glass. He looked terrified.

“What?” he muttered. “Who’re you guys?”

“I’m Skadooter!” Skadooter said. “All star running back of ASU!”

The white man was small and wore pajamas, boots, and a light jacket. He was probably about 30 years old.

“What the hell’s going on?” he asked in a thick southern accent.

“Stop!” Wayne said.

“What?” the little man said.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Billy.”

“Billy? Billy who?”

“Billy Jackson. What the hell’s going on?”

“Billy, do you know what’s happening?”

“I don’t know! I woke up to pee and there were people out in the yard. And I was like ‘**** them people.’ So I went out there to talk to ‘em. God! I’m still drunk. I was drinking a lot tonight.”

“You get bit?” Skadooter asked.

“No,” Jackson replied. “What?”

“You did get bit, didn’t you?”

“No, I do sterno. You ever drink sterno. It’s so good.”

“I’m gonna shoot this ****er,” Skadooter mumbled.

“And I drank a bunch ‘cause my stomach is all … messed up. So I can’t drink like real−”

“So Billy, get in here!” Wayne snapped.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jackson said, walking a little further into the room. “But … but I looked out the front and I was like ‘Martha!’ That’s my wife. Martha. And I went back to tell Martha … and then Martha tried to kill me! She came at me. She didn’t say a word, she just came at me! I’m like ‘Martha, I’m not in the mood. There’s people out on the yard.’ And then she tried to bite me! So, I had to put her down.”

“That’s kinky,” Skadooter said.

“It wasn’t!” Jackson said. “I beat her to death with a croquet mallet.”

Wayne looked out past Jackson but didn’t see anyone else in the parking lot.

“You get bit?” Skadooter asked again.

“No, I didn’t get bit,” Jackson said. “I beat her to death with a croquet mallet. She was trying to bite me, the *****!”

“You got bit.”

“I think her mom’s talkin’ to her too much.”

Wayne looked the man over but didn’t see any bite marks. Though there was splattered blood on his pajama tops neither Miss Bateman nor Skadooter thought the man had been bitten. He also appeared to be unarmed.

“Is he okay?” Wayne asked.

“Yeah,” Skadooter said.

“Yeah,” Miss Bateman said.

“Yeah, Martha, she was crazy,” Jackson went on. “And then those people in the yard so I just came here ‘cause I thought there’d be weapons.”

“We’re the walking dead,” Skadooter said.

“Shut the **** up, Scooter,” Miss Bateman said.

“The Wha?” Jackson said.

“Ah,” Skadooter said.

“Is that on cable?”

“Yeah.”

“We ain’t got no cable. We got four channels. Well, five if the weather’s right.”

Jackson moved further into the room.

“What’s going on?” he asked again.

“I need you to sit down and just listen,” Wayne said.

Jackson listened.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “That’s Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter!”

“It is!” Wayne said.

“Hell yeah,” Skadooter said.

“You’re a running back!” Jackson said.

“Yeah.”

“Your with ASU! You’re so good! Even for a colored folk!”

“I won the Championship.”

“Yeah, you did!”

“You wanna smoke some of this weed?”

“Oh, God damn yeah, I wanna smoke weed!”

Skadooter had been filling his little pipe and lit he. He and Jackson shared a few hits of the marijuana.

“Nobody here smokes with me,” Skadooter said sadly.

“That’s a shame!” Jackson said.

“I know.”

“I smoke enough, I’ll treat you like a brother.”

Wayne filled him in on what was going on and the spread of some kind of zombie virus through the meteorites crashing to earth. The man picked up on it though he was still a bit confused.

“What?” Jackson said. “That’s crazy! Was Martha a zombie?”

“Billy …” Wayne said.

“Wait wait wait wait wait! I ain’t goin’ to jail?”

“Well, you killed her,” Skadooter said.

“No,” Wayne said.

“Yes!” Jackson said. Then to Skadooter: “I had to! She tried to ****ing bite me!”

“There ain’t no more jail to go to!” Wayne said.

“Woo,” Jackson said. “We can do anything!”

“No!” Wayne said.

“Smoke weed,” Skadooter said.

“I am,” Jackson said.

“Billy, how much … are you a local?” Wayne asked. “Do you know the area?”

“Yeah, I live just across the road here.”

“We passed a chain link fence. What was that all about?”

“Oh, that’s the farm.”

“What’s in the farm?”

“They’re farming those plants, those weird-ass plants. I can’t remember what they’re called.”

“Weed?” Skadooter said.

“No. No, it’s a plant right? And it does oil, but it’s better than like fish oil and all that stuff. They been doin’ it since the 60s but nobody knows much about it because … who cares? It’s ****ing oil.”

“Who cares?”

“I don’t care. It’s some kind of plants and what they do is they extract the oil. And it’s supposed to make all these jobs. But I didn’t get no job.”

“Same.”

“I still work up at the God damned gas station. I still work up there. But, you know, I saw these people so I came down here because, **** it, I ain’t got a gun in the house. Martha wouldn’t allow it. **** her. *****.”

“Oil plants?” Wayne asked. “What is that?”

“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “I don’t remember the name of ‘em. There’s a sign up by the gas station.”

“Are they a fruit? Are they a vegetable? Can you eat ‘em?”

“I dunno. They’re just … they were supposed to make a bunch of jobs. They didn’t make no jobs. There’s like three guys that work there and they’re all like these scientists or some bullshit.”

He clutched his belly.

“Ah shit,” he said.

“What’s wrong?” Wayne asked.

“My stomach. I got ulcers and shit. Martha gave ‘em to me, that *****.”

He turned to Skadooter.

“Hey, you got any more?” he asked.

“Aw, that’s all I got, man,” Skadooter said. “I’m sorry.”

“Aw man.”

“I shared with you.”

“I thank you. So, I came down here and I was gonna get a bow and maybe a tree stand and I was gonna wait in a tree for those ****tards to come at me and I was gonna murder them.”

“That’s really smart.”

“Well, if they’re coming at my house, if they’re on my property, I’m going back up to my house here in a minute, once I get a bow.”

“Well Billy …” Wayne said.

“They’re zombies?” Jackson said. “Like Dawn of the Dead?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get to a … a …”

“Mall?”

“Mall. Let’s get to the mall.”

“No, Boone ain’t good.”

“Boone bad,” Skadooter said.

“Boone is ****ed up,” Wayne said.

“West Jefferson ain’t got a mall,” Jackson said.

“There is a mall in Wilksboro,” Wayne said.

“Let’s go to the Wilksboro Mall!”

“Billy, that mall ain’t been functional for years, man. If you want to camp out−”

“In Dawn of the Dead, the zombies went there, I remember that movie, they went there ‘cause they were familiar. So, if nobody’s been there for years, they won’t go there.”

“But there’s nothing for us there, Billy,” Skadooter said.

“If it’s familiar and that’s where they’re going, why would we go there, Billy?” Wayne said.

“No, they’re not familiar,” Jackson said. “But he just pointed out that there ain’t nothing there.”

He picked a bow off a shelf and got some arrows in a quiver. He pulled on the bow. Then he looked around.

“Billy, how far away would you say the Wal-Mart is?” Wayne asked.

“What Wal-Mart?” Jackson asked.

“The one in West Jefferson.”

“I dunno. Ten miles?”

“I’m thinking−“

“I’m gonna look in the back. I’m gonna get an armguard.”

He headed towards the back room.

“We got nothing,” Wayne said to the other two. “Car is on the intersection. Gas station’s up there. But we got food. Only thing it’ll give us is bottled water and drinks. We need to get somewhere we can protect ourselves. The only thing I can think of is the Wal-Mart in West Jefferson.”

“How far is that?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Ten miles.”

“We gonna walk there?”

“If we don’t find any better way to get there.”

“That shit’s uphill!” Skadooter said.

“I mean … at points, maybe, yeah,” Wayne said. “But …”

He sighed.

“I do know there’s a house next to this gas station,” he went on. “Whether or not there’s a car there, I don’t know.”

Miss Bateman and Skadooter both heard the tinkle of glass and the sound of a whip or something slapping from the back. Then they heard what sounded like someone fall to the floor in the back room.

“Did you guys hear that?” Skadooter said.

“Huh?” Wayne said.

“****ing glass shattering.”

“Yeah, I heard that too,” Miss Bateman said.

“Wait, from where?” Wayne asked.

“The back room, apparently, seems like.”

“Wait. Back room? Shit. Does this place have flashlights?”

“**** that,” Skadooter said. “He’s gone. Let’s go.”

“No.”

Wayne found a package with several tiny flashlights and batteries. There were four small LED flashlights, two smaller ones with straps to place around a person’s head, and at least a dozen triple A batteries. He grabbed one of the packages.

“Billy’s dead,” Skadooter said again. “**** him.”

Wayne struggled with the thing with one hand and was unable to open it. Skadooter took it from him and ripped open the plastic the flashlights were trapped in. He set up one of the ones with the straps and put it on Wayne’s head.

“Here ya go, buddy,” he said.

He looked towards the back.

“Billy, you okay?” he called towards the back.

There was no answer.

“Guys, he’s done,” Skadooter said.

Wayne turned on the light as Miss Bateman put batteries in the other flashlights. She grabbed the other pack of flashlights and tucked them into her backpack.

“Billy?” Wayne called carefully towards the back.

No reply.

“He’s gone,” Skadooter said again.

He headed for the front windows and climbed out of the building.

“Billy, we’re leaving!” Wayne called as he backed away from the back room.

Miss Bateman followed the men.

“We’re going,” Wayne said again as reached the window.

“Good luck with that, Billy,” Skadooter called. “Good luck with whatever’s happening back there, buddy.”

As they got out of the building, Wayne and Skadooter heard something moving on the right side of the structure. It sounded like someone had a branch with a lot of leaves and was shaking it. It was getting closer. Skadooter quickly loaded his crossbow. Light from Wayne’s headlamp faced the side of the building. He’d already loaded his crossbow. Skadooter aimed.

The thing that came around the corner was a strange looking plant.

“Oh shit,” Miss Bateman said.

The plant was walking! It had a large bole on the bottom which was shaggy with little rootlet hairs. It would have been almost spherical but for three blunt-tapered roots extending from the lower part. Supported on them, the bole was lifted about a foot clear of the ground. It walked like a man on crutches, two of the blunt legs sliding forward and then the whole thing lurching as the rear one drew almost level with them, then the two in the front sliding forward again. Growing up out of the bole was a tall, straight stem at least five feet high with short sprays of leathering green leaves. The top of the plant had some kind of wide, conical cup. Three short straight stems grew up from the bole on the sides of the main stem. At each step the horrible thing took, the long stem whipped violently back and forth sickeningly.

It came around the corner and stopped.

“Do you guys see this?” Skadooter said.

“What the ****!?!” Miss Bateman said.

“That’s a plant, right?” Skadooter said. “Like … you guys see this, right?”

“Uh-huh,” both Wayne and Miss Bateman said.

“Um,” Skadooter said, turning to run.

“Don’t move!” Wayne said.

The thing started to move in their direction with purpose.

“Go!” Wayne yelled. “Go go go!”

They fled around the side of the building, the strange plant in pursuit.

“Around the corner and stay still!” Wayne yelled.

They fled around corner and then stopped once they got there. They heard the plant still coming but it stopped moments after they stopped.

“Skadooter, aim around that corner, but don’t do anything yet,” Wayne said. “Do not move.”

Skadooter aimed towards the corner of the building without moving. They listened but heard nothing. Somewhere in the distance, a coyote howled in a strange ululating wail.

“What I think we should do, I think we should try to sneak around the back of this building and cut around it,” Wayne whispered.

“Yeah, I think that’d be best,” Miss Bateman said.

“Quietly,” Wayne said.

They moved painfully slowly towards the back of the building, taking about five minutes to get there. Skadooter got to the corner first.

“What do you see?” Wayne whispered.

Skadooter peeked around the corner. The chain link fence was not far from the back of the building. A large section of it was knocked down as if something had broken through it. A lot of smashed plant matter was in the area of the break, all mashed up.

“Looks good,” Skadooter said.

They continued creeping along the back of the building, past the windows and the back door.

“Hey, isn’t that that room Billy went into?” Skadooter whispered.

“I honestly don’t care about Billy right now,” Wayne whispered back. “Just keep going.”

“Shall we go through that broken fence where it looks like that ****ing plant came from?”

“****. No. That’s the worst ****ing thing.”

“Okay, I’m just going to keep sneaking this way.”

They crept across the back of the building and when they reached about the halfway point, not far from the door, they saw one of the windows was broken.

“That’s it,” Skadooter whispered.

They crept by the broken window. Miss Bateman peeked in but it was too dark to see much. The broken window had a circular hole but the glass had stayed in the window frame. They could make out a little light coming through the open doorway from the front of the store.

When he reached the corner of the building, Skadooter continued to follow the fence. Wayne, walking backwards, stopped them when he noticed they were leaving the building.

“Hold up,” he whispered.

The other stopped. Wayne surveyed the area but couldn’t see much in the darkness.

“If we want to get to this gas station, if that’s still the plan, then we need to get back to the road because it’s on the other side,” he whispered to them.

“Okay,” Skadooter whispered back.

“I mean …”

Skadooter again crept very slowly towards the road. It took them five or six minutes to get to the edge of the building nearest the road. He peeked around the corner and spotted the plant still in the same spot. He got a good look at it and saw it wasn’t moving.

“Shall we sneak by it?” Skadooter whispered.

Wayne sighed.

“We could try to shoot it,” Skadooter whispered.

“Let’s back away,” Wayne whispered.

He crept towards the road and away from the strange plant.

“We need to go this way,” he whispered. “This is the way we need to go.”

They made their way quietly and carefully to the road. Wayne still had his paintball mask on with the headlamp upon it, still turned on. He was pleasantly surprised the mask was not fogging up. Once they got to the road, they crept until they were out of sight of the plant. Only then did they start walking normally.

“What the **** was that!?!” Wayne finally said. “What was that!?!”

“I knew the government was making marijuana plants,” Skadooter said.

“It was like a ****ing … oh my God! Little shop of horrors! What the **** was that!?!”

“I’m gonna tweet this.”

He got out his cell phone and tweeted “Saw a walking plant. #what?”

They soon saw the lights from the gas station ahead. Miss Bateman and Skadooter also spotted another of those creepy plants at the corner of the building. Someone was lying on the ground on his back right next to it, arms spread.

“Wayne,” Skadooter said. “Wayne.”

The other man looked at him.

“Plant,” he said. “Plant.”

They pointed it out to Wayne. They wondered why, if the man was dead, he was not walking around.

“Skadooter, how’s your throwing arm?” Wayne whispered.

“Best in Boone,” Skadooter said. “Better than my quarterback. That guy sucked.”

The lights were still on at the 211 Grocery. It was a white building with two gas pumps out front under a small canopy. Florescent lights glowed under the canopy and a vehicle was parked between the pumps and the main building. Light also glowed from the windows. An outbuilding was further up the road and a house was on the near side of the road to the right. The man on the ground looked like he wore a gas station shirt.

The plants reminded Miss Bateman of the red weed in the relatively recent War of the Worlds movie.

“I want to try to see if this thing is distracted by noise,” Wayne said.

“Yeah, because we snuck around but it was just standing there?” Miss Bateman said.

“I think it detects vibrations on the ground within its vicinity,” Skadooter said in a rare moment of clarity. “So, like, when we’re running fast it’s big vibrations.”

“Tremor rules,” Wayne said.

He handed off his crossbow to Miss Bateman and picked up a small rock.

“Stay here,” he said. “Please.”

Then he crept towards the gas station. Skadooter aimed his crossbow at the plant from the couple hundred yards away the other two were standing. He aimed a little above the plant, expecting the bolt to drop a little, at least from his experience playing video games. He watched Wayne creep up to the gas station, getting to within about 45 feet, near the diesel pumps.

When Wayne got close, he realized the body was wearing the shirt of someone who worked at the gas station. He chucked the rock past the plant, aiming for a spot near the front doors. The plant didn’t move. The vehicle between the pump and the station still had a hose and nozzle in the tank. It looked like a two-door, hardtop jeep.

Skadooter and Miss Bateman crept over to where Wayne was still watching the plant.

“I don’t know what to do,” Wayne said when they got there.

Skadooter noticed a man standing in the darkness on the other side of the canopy, not moving.

Wayne pointed out the diesel pumps they were hiding beside and noted diesel was not as volatile. Skadooter had a lighter. Wayne suggested they make a big puddle of diesel fuel, make a line with the fuel, and light it to attract the plant. Then they could go around to get to the car at the gas station. He hoped it would create a diversion.

“Skadooter, what do you think?” Wayne said.

“Burn the plant?” Skadooter said.

“Are you with me?”

“I am all about burning plants.”

Wayne repeated the plan one more time, noting they weren’t trying to burn the plant but creating a distraction. He said if the pumps still worked, they would pour a pool of diesel fuel, ignite it, and hope it would attract the attention of the plant.

“You with me?” Wayne asked.

“Yeah,” Skadooter said.

“You understand that?”

“Yeah. You want my lighter?”

“That’s − yes!”

Wayne quietly removed the nozzle from one of the diesel pumps, feeling lucky it was not locked. He turned on the pump and then slipped over towards the gas station. He pumped enough fuel to cover a wide area in a big puddle, pumping for about five minutes and getting a puddle about 15 feet across. Then he make a line of diesel towards the road, shut off the pump, and put the nozzle back.

“I’ll light it,” Skadooter said.

Wayne told Skadooter the plan again.

“Light it, cross the street …” Wayne said.

“Slow or fast?” Skadooter asked.

“Creep.”

“Okay, am I supposed to stomp around before I light it?”

“No. No. Do what we’ve been doing.”

“Creep.”

“All you’ve got to do is bend down and light it. And then … the whole time we’ve been moving. All you’ve got to do is do that across the street. ‘Cause the idea is that they’re attracted to this flame, to this moving flame. That’s the plan.”

He looked at Skadooter’s lighter and saw it was a cheap Bic. He would have to light it before he could move.

“Now, this is up to you, because you’re lighting,” Wayne said.

“I’m going to light and then creep,” Skadooter said.

Wayne and Miss Bateman crept across the road and hid in the shadows on the other side.

Alone by the stinking diesel gasoline, Skadooter waited until they were out of sight.

“**** the police,” he whispered.

He lit the spot Wayne had shown him and the diesel fuel burned in a line to the pool, which ignited. Skadooter, meanwhile, crept away without even looking to see what he’d done. He thought he saw movement out of his peripheral vision but he kept creeping.

Up by the gas station, the man who’d been standing there, unseen by anyone but Skadooter, turned and shambled towards the burning fire. The plant didn’t move. Wayne didn’t see the zombie until it walked by the Jeep. Skadooter was about halfway across the road when the zombie got close to the plant. Suddenly, something whipped out of the cone atop the plant like a whip. It struck the zombie in the head in a heartbeat. The zombie stumbled but then continued to walk towards the flames. The plant turned as it walked by and whipped at its head again. The zombie continued to walk towards the flames.

The plant followed the walking dead man, continuing to whip at the back of his head. The zombie ignored it and stopped near the fire. The plant continued to whip at the dead man several more times before it stopped. It stood there for maybe a half minute before it shuffled back towards the first dead body.

Skadooter reached the others, all of them hiding in the darkness.

Wayne signaled and they crept down the road, almost in the ditch on the other side from the gas station, until they were across from the Jeep.

“Are the plants on our side?” Skadooter whispered to the others.

Wayne told the others he wanted to sneak across and check the vehicle for keys. He headed across the road and the other two followed a little further back, Skadooter about 10 feet from him and Miss Bateman behind the two of them. Wayne crept up to the car and looked into the open driver’s side window. A set of keys were sitting on the driver’s seat.

Wayne opened the door of the car and motioned them over. The other two crept to the car until the zombie turned and looked in their direction. When it saw them creeping towards the car, it shambled towards them. As it got near the plant, the thing started whipping at it once again. Skadooter crept towards the car but Miss Bateman broke into a run and leapt into the car, climbing into the passenger seat.

Skadooter leapt up and ran after her when the plant started to move their way, now ignoring the zombie. He clambered into the vehicle and over the seat, crashing into the back. Wayne leapt into the car and slammed the door shut. They heard another whipping noise and something struck the glass in the back of the vehicle. Some kind of greenish liquid splattered where the horrible thing struck.

“Ew!” Skadooter yelled.

Wayne saw the car had a manual transmission. He started the engine and threw the vehicle into gear, pulling out of the gas station quickly but not at a breakneck speed. Miss Bateman struggled to strap herself in while Skadooter was thrown around in the back seat.

There was a snap behind them as they pulled away from the pumps and Wayne looked into the rearview mirror on the driver’s side. He saw the nozzle was still in the gas tank of the car, the torn hose hanging from it. He kept going, heading up the road.

The chain link fence followed the road on the right and they saw an entrance in the fence line. A prominent sign there read “New Generation Triffid Farm.” They roared past it and headed up U.S. 221. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1959-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Four
<![CDATA[Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - Luxit Sol Campaign Session Four - Arrest]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1958-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Four-Arrest Thu, 26 Nov 2015 03:32:22 GMT Friday, November 13, 2015

(After playing Kit Howard’s D&D 3.5 game Wednesday, November 11, from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. with James Dixon, Katelyn Hogan, and Ethan Gordon.)

From the recollections of Rory Buttertongue - Halfling

I had a very strange dream that second night we spent in Denrith. First, I heard the words “Protect me.” Then I saw a face with glasses on it, though I couldn’t see the face. The person was also holding a slingshot. He wore a ring on the index finger of the hand he held the pouch with while the other two were on the hafts of the slingshot itself.

* * *

I woke on the 3rd day in Denrith when someone knocked on my door and called my name.

“How’s your head?” I heard Dack Fel yell.

“Wha?” I called back.

I was a bit out of it but at least didn’t have a headache.

“Can I come in?” he called.

“Hold on,” I muttered. “Wait a minute. I gotta find the key.”

I found all my things and then climbed up onto the bed to reach the shutters of the window, opening them up. I took a deep breath of the morning air. Light poured in. I went over and opened the door.

“What?” I asked. “What do you want? C’mon in.”

I picked up my items and unlocked my chest to get the rest.

“I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me but, since you wanted to get that mole rat thing stuffed, we’re going to have to find a house to keep it in,” he said.

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” I said. “I’ll be right down.”

“Okay,” he said.

He left. I used the chamber pot and then went down for breakfast, which was extensive. There were eggs, chunks of ham, and a sweet summer wine. I filled the plate until it was almost overflowing and joined the others at a table.

“Sorry I’m late,” I said. “What’d I miss?”

“Not much,” Arya said.

“You look radiant this morning.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!”

“About time you woke up.”

I had dug into my food but stopped.

“I overslept,” I said. “But, you know what? Oh, that’s right! Someone was in my room last night!”

“Oh really?” John Wayne said.

“No,” I said, thinking. “Maybe it was a dream. I woke up and I thought I saw somebody fiddlin’ with this.”

I pulled out the pouch I’d found with the three rings and the spectacles within.

“Anything gone?” John Wayne asked.

“No, I checked,” I said. “Everything’s in the room. And then I had this weird dream. Let’s see. Wait! I’m going to have to try this out. There was a figure and he had my magic item. And he had my slingshot and he took two of the rings and he had a ring here and a ring here and then I put another ring on this finger. And then I put the spectacles on.”

I had put a ring on either of the hafts of the slingshot and slipped the third onto my finger. Then I put on the spectacles.

“How do I look?” I said.

The rings fit onto the slingshot and over the rubber band. I heard a buzzing in my right ear.

“I probably shouldn’t shoot anything in here, should I?” I said.

I pulled back the slingshot.

“I guess I’ll try it outside and see what happens,” I said.

“Wait, you found rings?” Dack Fel asked.

“The things we found in that chest with the kobold wizard,” I said. “Remember we each found something?” I pointed to John Wayne. “He had those gloves, they’re all bloody now. She got that and you got that cloak of yours. I think it was a dream. It must’ve been.”

“How come you get a dream?” Arya said. “I don’t even know what this thing does.”

She gestured at the guard on her arm.

“We should try it out!” I said. “Oh, you shot your bow. Why don’t we find a bard today and he could tell you a legend about it?”

“Legends are not answers,” she said.

“Ah, but he could help point you in the right direction,” I said.

I took the spectacles off and when I turned over the slingshot, the rings fell off the hafts. I left the ring on my right index finger. Then I tucked the spectacles away with the other rings.

“We’ll try it out after breakfast,” I said. “Oh, and I thought I saw someone in my room and he was looking at this, at my pouch and my stuff. And I couldn’t move and I went back to sleep. Maybe it was a dream. It might’ve been a dream too, but it felt so real!”

“Did you hurt anybody in your dream?” Dack Fel asked. “Or did the figure hurt anybody in your dream?”

“No, he was pointing … wait, which figure? The figure I thought was in my room?”

“No, the figure in your dream.”

“No, he just was aiming.”

“We had similar dreams except my dream, the figure wearing my cloak, exactly the same as yours, seems to have decapitated a guard.”

“Well, tell me exactly what happened.”

He said he had heard a voice saying “Someone is after me. Protect me. With a calm center, think of death and I will assist you the most.” Then the man had swung his hand and decapitated a guard.

“So, try that next time you see a guard,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s a cloak of guard decapitation.”

“I don’t think I’m going to try that on a guard,” he said.

Arya looked very disturbed.

I asked John Wayne what his dream had been about. He said his had started out with someone saying “Help me, don’t squelch me.” I suggested that sounded like a jingle for some product. The voice had gone on: “For if you do, I cannot help you.” Then he saw a figure going through a war zone beating up everyone while wearing his gloves. Dack Fel thought the figures were supposed to be us.

Arya said she had a dream as well. She said she had seen a bloody figure with a broken composite bow stagger back and then had seen an army of orcs. The lone figure wore the guard she had on her wrist. She remembered the words “Something is after us. Protect me. Think of me in dire need and I will be there to protect you.”

“These are riddles!” I said. “I love riddles!”

John Wayne suggested we have a magician examine our items and I told him I was going to try out my own item and see if anything happened. Then I finished my breakfast. I hadn’t had before-dinner or after-dinner the night before so I was very hungry. Once I finished, I called over one of the innkeeper’s wives. I asked her who we’d talk to about buying or renting a house. She told me we should go to the housing authority. I thanked her and looked on my deluxe map for the place. It was easy to find and stood only a little ways away in the market. We decided to look into getting a more permanent place to stay in the city.

“Then you can get your bird or whatever you want,” I said to Dack Fel.

“I can’t get a bird,” he said.

“Your pet?”

“They’re expensive.”

“Then you can go borrow a bird … that you’ll give back at the appropriate time to the person you borrowed it from. Borrow. Borrow. Borrow a bird.”

We left the inn and found the market, as always, packed. I looked for a target to test the slingshot on. There were birds flying overhead.

“Rory, be careful with that,” Dack Fel said. “Rory. Be careful. Careful. Don’t.”

I put on the spectacles and the other two rings on the slingshot and once again felt the tickle in my right ear. I looked around but no one was near me. I scratched it. Then I spotted a seagull and shot at it with the slingshot. The bullet missed completely. I tried again and when I aimed, my ear tickled again. I told the others about it.

“He’s gone weird,” Arya said.

I looked at her.

“She has a little crush on me, I think,” I said to the others.

I shot a sparrow and the bird exploded into feathers and dead flesh, falling to the ground nearby. Arya and Dack Fel laughed uproariously at it.

“Definitely magic,” I said. “Definitely magic.”

I put the items away again. En route, Dack Fel stopped at one of the stalls. He soon rejoined us.

The housing authority was in a warehouse. There were two doors, one with a line. I asked the man at the back of the line what it was for and he told me it was for housing. I asked about the other door and he said it was for people new to the city. I thanked him and we went into the batwing doors without the line. There were several small booths set into the walls of the room with. We went through the empty line.

A small blonde woman was in the booth.

“Hello, my name is Jenny!” she said loudly.

“Hello Jenny!” I said.

“Are you here for housing?” she asked.

“Why, yes we are!” I said.

“Good, are you new to the city?”

“We’ve only been here for … this is our third day here.”

“Okay, please, hand here. Let’s verify that.”

She held out one of those magic books.

“Sure,” I said.

I put my hand on the book.

“Three days, wow!” she said. “Most people don’t make it here for a couple of weeks. What are you looking for?”

I told her we were looking for a place to rent or purchase in the market district. She asked how many rooms we were looking for and we told her we were looking for four rooms with a kitchen and sitting room.

“Something nice but not terribly expensive,” I said.

“I’ve got just the thing!” Jenny said.

“We’re not terribly rich,” I told her.

Arya looked annoyed with her.

“We’ve got just the thing!” Jenny said again.

“I like her,” I said. “She’s happy.”

“Oh, you can like her all you want,” Arya said with a glare.

Jenny showed us some houses in the market district, back from the main market area. We looked at a few that morning and found them adequate. All were a single story with several bedrooms, an indoor privy, and kitchen and living area. All were located near public wells in the area. The price of the one for rent we liked the best was about 15 gold coins per mouth, which included a pebble for utilities. We looked at a few houses to buy, which looked better.

We discussed buying vs. renting during lunch but decided to rent. We talked to Jenny again and learned there was a one-month deposit in addition to the first month’s rent. We paid the money and she said we also got the utility pebble. When I asked what that was, she said there were two pebbles, one for heating the fireplace in the living room and activating the small, pot-bellied stove in the kitchen, and one for flushing the privy. We also got a large, complex lock for the front door if we wished to lock up the house. Dack Fel signed the paperwork for the rental, something we would eventually regret.

I asked how the pebbles in the house worked and Jenny explained. If one took the heat pebble to the fireplace or the stove and thought of something warm, it lit the fire. The fireplace in the entry room and a small stove in the kitchen could both be lit. Testing proved though there was wood in the fireplace, using the fire didn’t actually burn it. The privy had a pebble embedded in the wall. When it was touched, the bottom of the privy opened and anything there was sucked down into the sewers. We would have to replace the pebbles every month.

I’d already paid for the night at the Scented Seasons so I spent one last night at the inn. I learned I had actually purchased the locks there so would be allowed to keep them.

* * *

The fourth day of our arriving in Denrith, I went to the house and asked the others to help me get the rat ogre I’d had stuffed. Dack Fel joked we should pebble the thing to make it easier to carry but I told him they’d chop off some bit of it and send us the rest. I thought it a terrible idea.

We went to the booth called “I Stuff Things!” and found Samuel the gnome. The stuffed rat ogre was pretty frightening-looking. Samuel had done a good job and it looked better than I thought it would. I paid him the other 25 silver coins I owed and Arya and John Wayne helped haul it back to the house. We put it in the living area facing the front door.

We spent the rest of the day buying furniture. I made sure I got a child’s size feather bed, the equivalent of a king-sized bed for me. There was also a chest with a sturdy lock for my room. We got kitchen implements and a table and chairs as well as a few places to sit in the living room. We got lamps and candles to use in the house too. It left us a few gold coins and we decided to keep it in a chest in the living room for us as a group.

* * *

I cooked breakfast on our fifth day in Denrith and the egg soufflé was delicious, if I do say so myself. It was my grandmother’s recipe and was amazing.

“Right, so what’s our plan for today?” I asked. “We got a house for the next 30 days. We got some food in the pantry. It’s good. I got a room next to a beautiful lady.”

Arya just looked at me.

“I’d like to take that translating job to make back some of that money we just spent,” John Wayne said.

“How much does it pay?” I asked. “We’re asking in advance this time.”

“No idea. I haven’t checked.”

“Because that 20 gold was not worth it.”

“It’s a few days work.”

“So, what’s the plan? You want to go on the translating job? Now wait, what did it say on the board? Is that a time thing? We gotta go on a sailing ship?”

“Yes.”

“Ooo! A cruise!” I said, clapping my hands in excitement.

“But the lost dog …” Dack Fel said.

I suggested we get the information on the translation job and if it was going to take a while, they could tell us when we would be leaving. If it wasn’t immediate, we could go look for the lost puppy.

“And we should be able to find the puppy,” I said. “We’ve got the best tracker in the world here.”

I pointed at Arya.

“I wouldn’t say that,” she said.

“I would,” I said.

We headed down to the docks. According to the magical map, we were supposed to talk to Brigadier Stutterlynch. On the way, Dack Fel gave a bottle of milk to a beggar. Arya looked at him suspiciously. We finally arrived at an older, regal-looking three-masted ship, practically a galleon. It was painted red and had an elaborate figurehead. There was no name on the bow, which I found strange.

“This is a fancy ship,” I said.

I looked to the ship on beside it. It was called Queen Diane. I looked on the other side of the red ship and saw that vessel was named The Porcelain Doll.

“That’s unusual,” I said. “There’s no name on the ship.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have a name,” Arya said.

No Name. Then it should say No Name.”

“Maybe that’s the name.”

“Then it would be on the ship.”

“This is a new ship,” John Wayne said.

The ship did look new. Perhaps no one had named it yet. It looked like it was spit-polished and perfectly clean as if had been kept up since the day it had been laid down, or it was newly in the water.

“And we’re after the Brigadier so it’s a military vessel, potentially,” I said.

A Luxit Sol flag flew on the vessel.

“Let’s go on board,” I said.

“Are we allowed on board?” Arya said.

I walked up the gangplank and saw a few scraggly men on the deck. One of them stopped us. He had dark skin and dark hair.

“What can I help you with?” he asked.

“We’re here to see Brigadier …” I said.

“Stutterlynch,” both Arya and John Wayne said.

“Stutterlynch,” I said.

“You’re here to see the commander?” the man said. “All right. Hold on one sec. I need you to step back off the vessel. He gets very, very fussy with people getting on his boat.”

I backed down the gangplank.

“This is a boat?” I said. “I thought this was a ship.”

“Boat, ship, it floats on water, it gets us from point A to point B, he likes it different ways but that’s not me,” the man said before disappearing into the ship.

While we waited on the dock I took out the slingshot and started experimenting with the rings. I tried different rings on the hafts and my right index finger, putting the spectacles on as well. After some experimentation, I put different rings on the hafts and my finger until, at one point, the rings on the haft slid down over the rubber band and seemed to connect themselves to the slingshot. I put the last ring on my right index finger and put on the spectacles. When I aimed the slingshot I got a humming in my right ear, and crosshairs appeared on the spectacles. I guessed it would make bullets strike more accurately. The rings were now part of the slingshot and didn’t come back off. Likewise, the ring on my index finger couldn’t be removed. I tucked the spectacles away.

I told the others what I had discovered in great excitement. Dack Fel was wearing a plain, boring cloak by the time I got done with my own fiddling.

A man with a peg leg walked onto the deck. He wore a huge, blue admiral’s hat and had a ridiculously long and curly mustache and whiskers. His gray hair was cut in a huge pompadour and he wore a military jacket. He also had a monocle over one eye and that eye looked a different color than the other eye. Very strange.

“Edwards!” he screamed back towards the ship. “Edwards! Where are they!?! You said they were up here! Where are they!?!”

“Hello,” Arya said.

I waved.

The other man, presumably Edwards, came out and pointed us out.

“Down there, sir,” he said. “Down there.”

“Oh!” Brigadier Stutterlynch said. “Okay lads!”

He headed down the gangplank very quickly and his peg leg got stuck. He stopped and almost fell but miraculously stood straight back up and then kept walking towards us. It was very strange.

“Hello gentlemen!” he shouted at us. “I’m Brigadier Stutterlynch! What can I do for you!?!”

“We’re here about the translating job,” John Wayne said.

“Oh yes!” Brigadier Stutterlynch shouted. “Yes! My young … elf? And elf and human and … what the hell are you!?!”

“I’m a walking mouth,” I said.

“Even better!” he cried.

“I said Halfling,” I said.

He stopped and looked at me for a moment, then seemed to carry on as if it hadn’t happened.

“Yes!” he shouted. “Translation!”

It was again, very strange. As if he had suddenly become another person.

“Brilliant!” he said, pointing us out once again as if he was cataloguing it. “Yes, walking mouth! We made need that!” He turned to John Smith. “Do you speak elvish!?!”

“Yes,” John Wayne said.

“Prove it to me!” he cried.

John Wayne started speaking hesitantly to the man in elvish.

“Okay!” Brigadier Stutterlynch said and turned to Arya. “Can you!?!”

She also spoke to him in elvish.

“Do you speak Halfling?” Dack Fel asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

They were still jabbering away in elvish.

“What’s going on?” I asked when they stopped talking.

“It’s going to be a three-day trip,” John Wayne said.

“Leaving when?” I asked.

Brigadier Stutterlynch continued to talk to Arya in Elvish.

“When do we leave?” I asked.

“Two hundred gold,” John Wayne said. “Three days out and three days back.”

“Bargain,” Dack Fel said to John Wayne. “Three hundred gold.”

Brigadier Stutterlynch continued to talk in Elvish, which seemed pretty rude to me.

“It’s going to be 10 days actually,” John Wayne told me.

“Ten days?” I said. “When do we leave?”

“In five days,” Arya said.

Arya told me there were issues with sea elves. Apparently the Brigadier needed the elves to communicate with the sea elves as they were being rambunctious.

“Oh, we have to talk to ‘em?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Oh! Oh! I’m good at that.”

“Because they’re causing the ship problems.”

“All right. I’ll talk to people. I like talking to people.”

“In Elvish?”

“Uh … um. Well, I’ll smile a lot. You know, if you talk loud enough …”

“No.”

“… and you talk slowly enough.”

“You might piss them off.”

The Brigadier, meanwhile, had been speaking to John Wayne in Elvish now. It was very strange.

“I’m up for this if the rest of you are,” I said.

“Doesn’t sound too hard,” Arya said. “Sea elves.”

“Piece of cake,” Dack Fel said.

“I see your friends have filled you in on most of it!” Brigadier Stutterlynch said. “I’ll see you in a couple days!”

He headed back up the gangplank, tripping once again and almost falling before suddenly standing back up straight and continuing on to disappear on the ship. It was very strange.

We headed up the dock.

“So, where’s this dog?” I asked.

“Billy the kid,” Dack Fel said. “Northern market district.”

I looked on the deluxe map as we walked back up through the market district. I fell back from the rest and picked a random man’s pocket. Then, up ahead of me, a man who Dack Fel bumped into grabbed him by the wrist.

“Excuse me,” Dack Fel said.

“Guard!” the man yelled. “Guard!”

I panicked and rushed at the man.

“Get out of my way, you filthy beggar!” I yelled, slamming into the man’s legs from behind.

I kept running, not even looking back, until I the commotion behind me stopped. Then I slowed my pace and walked to where we were supposed to meet with Jimmy the kid. I pebbled the money pouch I’d gotten and handed off the cheese it became to the nearest beggar en route. I waited there for about a half hour but my companions didn’t arrive, so I went home. I found three gold coins and 50 silver coins from the thieves’ guild on my bed.

* * *

I later learned from the others my attempt to knock the man over had failed and he kept hold of Dack Fel, who tried to claim he’d merely bumped into him. Arya apparently tried to claim Dack Fel was simple minded but the man wasn’t convinced. The guards then arrived and she tried to tell them the same story, but one of them took out one of those damned magic books and grabbed Dack Fel’s hand and put it upon it. They noted he had been in the military and the thieves’ guide and seized Dack Fel, dragging him off to gaol.

Arya and John Wayne went to the gaol and found out Dack Fel would be sentenced the next day. It would be listed on a board on the wall outside of the gaol.

* * *

Arya finally got home while I was baking some potatoes for lunch.

“Where’s Dack?” I asked her. “He got accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Or something. I didn’t really see clearly.”

“I saw his hand in that man’s pocket,” she said.

“Oh right. Okay, so he got caught pick-pocketing. And I tried to help him out.”

“So, what’s that about?”

“He likes to pick pockets, apparently. I’m a locksmith though. That’s all I do is pick locks.”

“Sure.”

“Now, c’mon now. Where’s that other fellow? Where’s John Wayne?”

“He’s out training.”

“All right. He seems really … worried about stealing. So if you don’t tell him about Dack’s picking pockets, it would probably be for the best. Or you could also blackmail Dack. It’s a possibility.”

“He already asked.”

“Oh, he asked?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Uh.”

“Did you tell him the truth?”

“Uh … yeah.”

“Oh. Fair enough. Is he going to go kill Dack?”

“No. No. He just wanted to know.”

“Well, Dack has his name on our rental so they might seize all our property.”

“Let’s hope not.”

“That’s why I got all my stuff out. It’s in my pockets.”

“Well, I did see him take that cash from that man’s pocket.”

“Wait, what?”

“Wait, what?”

“When? What cash from what man’s pocket?”

“Nothing. Nothing.”

“No no no, don’t you ‘nothing’ me.”

“Oh, you don’t worry about it.”

“I do worry. The man in the market or some other man?”

“No, not the man in the market. Don’t worry about it.”

“What other man?”

“It’s just his pick-pocketing thing, like you said?”

“When?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does!”

“You don’t seem to care about the man in the market.”

“You would tell John Wayne but you won’t tell me? My feelings are very hurt right now.”

“I told you he was pick-pocketing from that man.”

“Yes, but what about this other man he pick-pocketed from? Who was this other man? Just tell me.”

She walked out and I followed her. She turned back towards me as if she was going to kick me.

“No!” I said. “Get away from me! What other man did he take from?”

“You’re not going to be mad if I tell you, are you?” she asked. “You’re not going to tell him, are you?”

“Well, I might tell him I noticed.”

“But you’re not going to be mad at him?”

“No. Look, he’s a thief. He’s a thief. He steals.”

“Oh, is he?”

“Well, I guess. I … he apparently steals. He got caught for it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because it’s happening.”

“Well, they did say he was in the thieves’ guild. What is that?”

“What? Iunno. I’m a locksmith. That’s why I asked about getting a little shop in the market so that I could start a little locksmith shop. Take old locks and fix ‘em up and sell ‘em. For profit.”

“I tried to help. Tried to say he wasn’t there.”

“Not that. That other man you said he stole from.”

She just looked at me.

“Just tell me!” I said. “I won’t be mad.”

“Okay,” she said. “Remember the man they detained? You were knocked out for a while. Yeah, you were knocked out. That’s why you didn’t notice.”

“Oh, that one that attacked me from behind?”

“Yeah. He took some gold from him, I think.”

“Oh. You might should ask him about that.”

“I don’t care that much.”

“Well, we should have equal shares, shouldn’t we?”

“Meh. He did get the last kill.”

“All right. I might ask him about it. Might tell him I had a dream or something about it, how about that?”

“I don’t think so. Of course, I don’t think he noticed that I noticed.”

“Fine, then I’ll just ask him if that man had anything on him.”

“Why do you need to talk to him?”

“Because, if he got gold, we should get some. You and me and him … and John Wayne too, who took a bit of a pounding and had to spend a bunch of money on healing. I don’t know how much he spent but I’m sure it wasn’t cheap.”

“This isn’t that big of a deal to me.”

“If you don’t want me to, I won’t.”

“Don’t. Don’t.”

“All right. I won’t.”

I had gotten so involved in the conversation that the potatoes burned. I ate what I could of them but Arya declined. I offered her some carrots from the pantry. She told me what had happened to Dack Fel. John Wayne returned a few hours later and I gave him some of the cold, burnt potatoes.

“She told me that Dack Fel was arrested,” I said to him.

“He was,” he said.

“That’s a shame. Were you able to talk to him? Could you go in and speak to him?”

“Nope. Wasn’t allowed to speak to him.”

“All right. So, she said sentencing was tomorrow.”

“Well, it’s going to be posted tomorrow,” Arya said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be tomorrow.”

We decided to wait until the next day to see what his sentence was.

* * *

After the elves went to bed that night, I snuck into Dack Fel’s room and searched it. I opened up the locked door and the locked chest and found clothing, extra daggers, a document with his real name on it, and a journal. There was a small bag of 15 gold pieces on the bed as well. I guessed that was from the thieves’ guild. I didn’t figure I had time to read the journal but I might be able to read it at some point.

I put everything back exactly where it was and then crept out, locking his door behind me.

* * *

The next day, the sixth since we’d come to Denrith, I got up and made us all breakfast of eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, and toasted bread. I slipped into Dack’s room and took the bag of gold from his bed. I figured we might need money for him. After we ate, I had the others take me to the gaol. I didn’t want to go but I did.

We found a sentence had been set for Dack Fel: Seven Days - Ten Lashings Times Stocks. We found him in the stocks near the market district. It looked like he’d has his face beaten as well. I expected that as I always thought gaol was a terrible place. However, I noticed none of the other people in the stocks had their faces beaten.

“Who beat you up?” I asked. “Did you mouth off? You talked, didn’t you?”

“We have a special friend that works here,” he said.

“Who?”

“One of the four jerks back from basic.”

“Which one?”

“The cleric.”

“Oh.”

Arya glared. She had been the one who had fought the cleric when we first joined up months before.

“You said she beat the crap out of you?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “And there’s not much I could have done about it.”

“There was some money on your bed,” I whispered to him. “We’ll start with that. Fair enough? I know where it’s from. Wait! Where your pebble?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered back.

“Next time swallow it,” I said.

“Just get me out of here,” he said.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go. C’mon.”

“Don’t bribe them!” he called.

We went into the gaol and asked if there as any way to make a payment in lieu of Dack’s punishment. He told us the only way to do it was to get a specific letter from Dack Fel saying he was sorry and delivering it to the man he robbed. We could talk to the man he robbed, but only with the escort of a guard. Then the victim would have a choice of what he wanted for reprimand. I asked for the escort.

I went back out to talk to Dack Fel.

“Do you have any more money at the house?” I asked.

“Yes,” he growled.

“How much?”

“Enough.”

“How much? I need a number.”

I told him exactly what we were going to do and reminded him the man might want a good amount of money. I told him I needed to know, that I could get into wherever he locked it and might use it to pay the man. He guessed he had about 80 gold pieces so that gave us a total of potentially 95 gold coins.

The man who was to act as our escort did not look like a typical guard but carried himself more like a house guard or a personal bodyguard. He took us to the nobles’ quarters to a specific mansion. He went to the door and talked to a servant who led him into the house. We waited outside for them. He returned after a few minutes and told us the lord Dack Fel has insulted was Duke Brennan. The duke said his day with his children was interrupted and it was something he liked to do, so we had to come up with something his children would like. John Wayne asked about the duke’s children and we learned he had a boy of 13 and a girl of about nine years old.

We talked, just the three of us.

“I don’t want to go near the duke,” I confessed. “Because, I realize I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry. I yelled ‘Get out of the way, filthy beggar’ and I ran into him as I ran by.”

I glanced at the house, fearful the duke might be watching. I pulled my hood up to obscure my features as well.

“It’s up to you two, so … I dunno,” I went on. “Take ‘em to the zoo or something.”

We discussed it. I suggested as a beautiful woman, Arya would entertain them. She said she could tell them stories of her homeland. I noted it would be appropriate if Dack Fel had to do it. Then I had it!

“We can sent a proposal to the duke that the perpetrator will dress up as a jester and do magic tricks,” I said. “You know, things like pull pennies out of their ears and make cards magically disappear. We could send that to him and note it would an appropriate punishment, if the duke is willing. He would do tricks for his children and entertain them for as long as the duke so wishes.”

“Or maybe the children could just throw food at him,” Arya said.

We told the guard and sent that proposal back to the duke. I also suggested the duke could pick the jester costume. The guard left for a bit and returned. He told us the duke was fine with it with the stipulations it be done in the public market and the orphan children would be invited as well. The duke also had a costume in mind.

He escorted us back to the gaol and the guard told us to wait. He returned with a piece of paper we were tell the guard to give to Dack Fel. We went to the stockades and were to return that night. I told Dack Fel everything that had happened with the duke. I advised him to take the blame in the apology letter, perhaps noting he was misguided and regretted what he’d done. Then we left, returning at nightfall to take the apology letter.

* * *

On our seventh day in Denrith, I fixed us breakfast before we headed out. We left for the market and eventually made our way to the market center, where the show would probably take place. I went into the Scented Seasons Inn and asked if they had a room on the second floor overlooking the market square. Unfortunately they didn’t. Instead, I crept into the market square and found a niche I could hide near a booth where I could see the market square but remain hidden. I soon saw the Duke in the center of the market square. There were a lot of children around and a lot of people had rotten fruit and vegetables.

Dack Fel arrived shortly in the most ridiculous jester outfit I’d ever seen. It had massive shoes and bells everywhere. Only his face and his buttocks were uncovered. He looked like a raggedy hobo.

That’s the worst suit ever, I thought.

I realized I should have brought him some cards to do card tricks or perhaps makeup for his terribly bruised and beaten face. Oh well.

Dack Fel talked to a guard who didn’t seem want to talk to him. He then talked to John Wayne and Arya for a few moments. The two left and John Wayne brought him various items. Then he was pushed towards the middle of the square. Then the Duke came forward.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in regards to my son and daughter’s birthdays, today, all day, we will be having entertainment from … Lester the Jester! Remember kids, throw that food all you want! You’ll never miss.”

“Yeah, right!” a kid in the back yelled.

He chucked a tomato and it bee-lined straight for Dack Fel and slammed him in the face. I had a great idea and I left the area, even as I saw Arya handing out tomatoes. It took me a half hour to find a pie cart and the lady told me it was early and it would be some time before her pies were ready. I told her that was fine, as I wanted to buy all of her pies and for her to take her cart to the market center and distribute them to all of the orphan children there, who were having fun with a clown.

“Oh, are you a part of the festivities today?” she asked.

“I just heard about it happening and so I want to help out,” I said.

“That is wonderful! Come back about 11 or 11:30 and we’ll have a full cart for you. You want ‘em extra messy?”

“Yes, as messy as you can make them. Spare no expense.”

I returned a couple hours later and she told me it would cost a gold coin for her 50 pies. I paid her two gold coins for her trouble and asked her to take the cart down to the market center and distribute the pies to the children so they could throw them at the jester. I went back to my hiding place.

By then, Dack Fel was completely covered in rotten fruit and vegetables. I figured pies would be a blessing after that. The pie lady arrived and handed out the free pies. I soon noticed any adult who threw something would miss while children would always hit. It appeared all of the children were having a good time, though they didn’t like the pies as much as they did the other things. Dack Fel was soon covered in white pie filling.

By the early afternoon, they were out of things to pelt him with. Then he started doing magic tricks for the children, though none of them wanted to get near him. Arya helped him to do some of his tricks. He did the cup and ball trick with three cups and a ball. It was not a very good trick. Dack Fel claimed it was just a test round and tried again. He did the trick again and the cup and balls just seemed to vanish. The children cried for him to bring them back. I ran to where I could quickly purchase more cups and a ball and did so. I flung the whole thing at Dack as hard as I could. Cups and a ball flew over the crowd and landed on the table. The children loved it. Then I went back to my hiding place.

He tried some juggling and did a couple of tricks. Arya appeared with more tomatoes and gave them to the duke’s children. Eventually the show ended with evening. I saw the duke talking to Dack Fel before they took him back to the gaol. Arya, John Wayne, and I went home.

“That was the best day ever,” Arya said with a giggle. “That was the best. That was great.”

* * *

Dack Fel returned to the house early the next morning, our eighth day in Denrith, just as we were getting up. John Wayne was waiting for him and talked to him briefly. Then Dack Fel came to my room.

“Rory, where’d you put the gold that was on my bed?” he asked.

I tossed him the sack, telling him there were only 13 gold coins left.

“You can have six,” he said.

“Well, shouldn’t everybody get some?” I asked. “Where did you get this?”

John Wayne and Arya peeked in.

“We should all get some of this money that you found somewhere that I don’t know where you found,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” Dack Fel said. “I’m a government employee.”

“You should divide this money between all of us,” I said.

He did so, giving us each three gold coins.

“No matter what, I’m taking the day off, so … you know,” Dack Fel said. “We could relax. We could all just relax and think about what we’ve done. And me and Rory can−”

“Or you can think about what you’ve done,” John Wayne said to him.

“I’ll think about what I’ve done with Rory,” Dack Fel said.

The elves went to the ship to talk to Brigadier Stutterlynch. While they were gone, I questioned Dack Fel about how much money he’d stolen without telling me. He told me he’d successfully stolen from two people.

“What about that guy in the warehouse?” I asked.

“What guy in the warehouse?” he asked.

“Did he have some money on him?”

“A little bit.”

“You’re not going to share it with your best friend?”

“It’s gone now!”

“Aw, damn it.”

“But from now on, we should do this together and share in the profits.”

I agreed with him. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1958-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Four-Arrest
<![CDATA[Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - Luxit Sol Campaign Session Three - Rats]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1957-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Three-Rats Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:36:48 GMT Saturday, November 7, 2015

(After playing Kit Howard’s D&D 3.5 game Friday, November 6, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with James Dixon, Ethan Gordon, Katelyn Hogan, and Demetrius Jones-Dixon.)

From the recollections of Rory Buttertongue - Halfling

On our second day in Denrith, Dack Fel disappeared again, directly after breakfast, without telling us where he went. John Wayne, Arya, and I discussed a job and we went to the job board outside. Arya wanted to fight rats and one of the jobs was for that.

“So, what shall we do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Arya said.

“So, you want to kill rats?” I asked. “All right, where’s this rat place?”

John Wayne looked more closely at the job board and told us we needed to talk to a Captain Louis. I left a note for Dack Fel at the inn that read: “We’ve gone to look for a missing dog. Just kidding. Rory.” I slid it under his door and we left.

The market was very, very crowded and I had little trouble picking a man’s pockets for about four silver coins. I touched the guild pebble to them and was surprised when they turned into a little bunch of grapes. I handed them over to a beggar with an eye drooping out of the socket and he tucked them away. Very interesting system.

“Oh, that’s what pebbling is,” I said to myself.

It took us about an hour to walk to the docks from the inn. I asked a beggar about Captain Louis and showed him my pebble.

“Uh …” one of them said. “Don’t show that in public. Keep it hidden.”

“All right,” I said.

“Haven’t you been taught yet?” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “I forgot! It’s been a big day. It’s my birthday! Do you know anything about Captain Louis?”

He told me he didn’t and suggested if it was for a job from the board, I should ask a guard. I gave him a silver coin and walked back to the others, telling them what I’d learned. They were talking to people passing by. John Wayne walked over to a guard while I held back. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but the two soon came back over to me.

“So, deluxe map,” Arya said.

“Do we have a deluxe map?” John Wayne said.

“Yes, I’ve got one right here,” I said.

I opened up the scroll and we looked on it for Captain Louis and rats. John Wayne went back to the guard, Arya grabbing the map from me and walking over with him. The two learned from him how to use the map by touching the help board on the map. Then you could actually see the spot on the map where the job was. It was very magical and quite ingenious. It also showed us where we were. We headed to the spot marked on the map which was not far from the dock entrance to the slums.

I found another beggar on the way.

“I got a job for you,” I said to him. “I got five silver coins here. I need you to go to the … where we staying?”

“Scented Seasons,” John Wayne said.

“The Scented Seasons,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” the beggar said.

“Find Dack Fel and tell him that his friends are down at the docks,” I said. “Tell him Rory sent you.”

“Okay,” he said.

“All right, and you find me again, I’ll give you another five,” I said. “Go!”

The beggar took out something and scribbled on it and then put it behind him.

“It’s getting done,” he said.

“Good job!” I said.

We continued on to the warehouse. All of the warehouses looked the same but when we got close, the map zoomed in and showed us in relation to our destination. There were several people working in the warehouse and the main doors were open. The place was about 100 feet wide and looked very deep. There were windows in the walls near the roof, about 40 feet high. Sailors moved in and out of the warehouse and we headed in, following John Wayne.

A man in a red shirt came out of the warehouse as we approached.

“Hold on, hold on,” he said. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“We are here to kill some rats,” John Wayne said. “We’re looking for Captain Louis.”

“About damned time someone was interested in this,” the man said. “Please please come in. I’ll bring you to Captain Louis.”

We followed the man inside. The warehouse was massive and probably a hundred yards from front to back. It was filled with everything imaginable, crated produce and the like, and even livestock. The far end of the warehouse, the entire back, had apparently been walled off.

“There’s your rats right there, I’ll bet,” I said.

“Well, I guess I better start tracking them,” Arya said.

“Wait, let’s talk to the captain first,” John Wayne said.

We headed up the stairs, then across a catwalk to a small office built into the wall some 20 feet up. I could see another catwalk behind it and more steps leading up from there. We were led into the office where a man with rusty blonde hair sat behind the desk. The man who led us in turned out to be his first mate and introduced us to Captain Louis.

“These men and lady are here to help with the rats,” the first mate said.

“All right, go back,” Captain Louis said. “Go back. Continue.”

The first mate ran out.

“How bad is this rat problem that you’re having?” John Wayne asked.

“Well, that’s the thing, I sent a couple people back there,” Captain Louis said. “I don’t have the time, unfortunately, to go down there myself. I’ll explain. We have rats. They come out at night and into the main part of the warehouse. We’re pretty sure we know where they come from but it’s been a little bit of a problem because they’re getting into our fresh produce, eating it, they scare the cows, which break out, damage other products. It’s just not good. So, go back out there and there will be a person at the bottom of the stairs. His name is Shmee. He will help you go back. He’s the one that’s had the most experience with the rats. When you’re done, I’ll give you some gold for your time and hopefully this never happens again.”

We left the office and found a disheveled-looking teen at the bottom of the stairs. He had dirty brown hair and a baby face. He looked very poor.

“Are - are you the ones here to get the rats?” he said.

“Yes, we are,” John Wayne said.

“Oh, good good,” Shmee said. “Please please follow me!”

He led us to the very back of the warehouse where a door stood in the extra wall I’d noticed before.

“I can’t believe Dack hasn’t found us yet,” I muttered. “What’s wrong with him?”

Shmee told us the rat problems were getting worse. He noted they’d put some spoiled meat on the ground the night before and they heard the rats, so they’d sent a couple of men in.

“What happened next?” I asked the boy.

“Exactly,” he said.

“They didn’t come back out?” I asked.

“NO!” he said.

I gasped.

“This was this morning?” I asked him.

“This morning,” he said.

“The rats should be full now,” I said. “They should be easy to kill. Let’s go.”

I could hear the scurrying of rats behind the wall.

“The captain just told us to take care of it,” Shmee said. “He doesn’t have time to go down and handle it himself.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Open the door then?” Shmee said.

“Open the door,” John Wayne said.

Shmee took the lock off the door and then flung it open and jumped behind us. Four huge rats, each the size of a man’s arm, were waiting and leapt at John Wayne. All four of them tore into his legs and ankles, cutting and biting him. Blood splattered from the man. Arya fired her bow into the melee but missed completely. John Wayne drew out what looked like a small, sharp hoe, and struck at the rats but missed. I moved to my right, still some distance from the rats and took out my slingshot. I fired into the melee and struck one of the rats solidly in the skull, killing it instantly.

“One!” I called.

The rats tore into John Wayne and Arya again, biting both of them. Arya backed away and shot a rat dead. John Wayne missed again and I fired another bullet that winged one of the rats.

“One and a half!” I called.

The remaining rats attacked John Wayne. Arya fired another arrow at the rats and missed completely, nearly skewering John Wayne’s leg. John Wayne struck one of the rats with his fist, killing it, and killed the last one with his sharp hoe.

“Dinner for Dack,” I said, pointing at the rats. “Is it dark in there? Do we need a torch? I don’t have one. Do we need one?”

“No idea,” John Wayne said weakly.

“Where’s Dack when we need someone to scout ahead for pits?” I said.

John Wayne looked around for something to bind his wounds and eventually tore some strips from his shirt.

“Good shot,” I said to Arya.

She didn’t look pleased at my compliment. I think she thought I was being sarcastic.

“Can you see in there?” I asked John Wayne. “Is it too dark to see?”

There appeared to be shelves on either side of the door and the back wall of the building was only 20 or 30 feet further on.

“Let’s go,” I said to John Wayne. “Are you all right? You look very pale.”

“Close the door,” John Wayne said.

Arya just looked at him so I closed the door. Shmee walked back up to us.

“Do you get ‘em?” he asked.

“We got a few,” John Wayne said.

“How many are there?” I asked.

“How many are there?” John Wayne said.

“How am I supposed to know?” Shmee said.

“I thought you were a smart boy,” I said.

“‘Go kill the rats,’” he said. “‘How many rats are there?’ I don’t know! They’re rats!”

“One, two, three, four,” I said. “There’s four.”

“Four, at least, are dead,” John Wayne said. “Shmee, go find us a torch.”

I could still hear scurrying behind the wall.

“Do you have any torches?” I asked.

“Uh …” Shmee said.

“Or a lantern?” I said. “Something we could borrow? We don’t have to keep it.”

“All right, hold on,” Shmee said.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you.”

He ran off.

“So, how you feeling?” I asked John Wayne.

He just glared at me.

“You look like … there’s a lot of blood,” I said. “There’s a lot of blood …”

We waited for Shmee to return. I asked John Wayne what we were doing and he replied he was waiting for a torch. It had only been a few minutes but I was getting bored.

“I can see in there,” I said. “It’ll be fine. Let’s go. Let’s go.”

John Wayne continued to look around.

“Can you use a shield?” I asked.

“I don’t have a shield,” he said.

“Yeah, but look, there’s plenty of palettes,” I said. “You could use one as a makeshift shield.”

“I prefer not to,” he said.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go then, lead the way! I’m ready. I’ve got my slingshot.”

I nudged him in the back of the leg.

“Before we do anything, grab one of all the produce,” he said. “Put it down in front of the door.”

I shrugged and Arya and I started to gather up single potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, radishes, turnips, and the like. We each got an armful and returned.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.

“I hope we don’t have to pay for this,” Arya said.

“Not right now,” John Wayne said.

“Well no one’s here to see that we took it, so …” I said.

“Well, it’ll be on the ground,” Arya said.

“No stealing,” John Wayne said.

“What are we doing?” I asked. “I’m not stealing, I’m … you just told me to steal!”

John Wayne looked around again but didn’t seem to find whatever he was looking for.

“I don’t think he’s coming back,” I said of Shmee.

Arya walked over to the door and opened it, peeking in. I followed behind her and John Wayne followed us. She went to the left and I followed, looking at shelves on either side. I figured I could climb them like a ladder but they were very high, being 30 feet or so to the top. A fall from one of them would be very, very bad.

“Rory, put the produce in the corner,” John Wayne said.

I grabbed up the produce and dumped it in the corner of the room. Then I went back outside and got the lock off the door so we didn’t get locked in. I took out my slingshot. I went back in and followed Arya, who moved off to the left. There was a bloody skeleton further on and I stopped as she walked over and examined it.

“Oh,” she said.

I turned around and watched the other direction, where there was another corridor of sorts leading through the shelves. Arya returned to me and I suggested we stand back-to-back.

“I hear something,” John Wayne said.

“What do you hear?” I whispered. “What is going on?”

“Thuds,” John Wayne said

“Where?” I asked.

“Behind the walls,” he said.

“Which walls,” I said. “Point me.”

He gestured towards the main wall.

“Behind this wall over here?” I asked.

He nodded and I moved to the back wall, as did John Wayne. There were no cracks but it was darker than one would expect from an outer wall.

“There’s another wall back there,” I whispered. “There’s some shelves over this way.”

Arya walked by me, heading off to the right. John Wayne put his ear to the wall, listening to it.

“Don’t get stuck to it,” I hissed at him. Then I looked around. “Dack’s not here for me to tease. You hear anything?”

“Slowly something is fading into the back behind the wall,” he said. “It seems to be gone.”

“All right,” I said.

“But stay on your toes,” he said.

“I don’t hear the little rats anymore,” I said.

“Stay on your toes,” John Wayne said again.

I looked around and found Arya, putting my back to her. John Wayne headed over to the right of entrance.

“He’s about to die,” she said to me. “Let’s stay with him.”

I nodded and she followed him. I followed after her. As we reached the side of the first shelf, we all saw a hand on the floor by the edge of the nearby shelves suddenly dragged away. I heard heavy breathing and the sound of someone dragging a body. I quickly told the others in a whisper.

“Go, lead the way,” I said. “I’ll follow you. I’ve got your back.”

John Wayne drew his daggers and moved to the front of us. I crept to the corner and hid in the shadows while the other two moved to the next shelf. John Wayne peeked around the corner. Suddenly, a dead body came out of nowhere and slammed into John Wayne as if it had been flung. He crashed back into Arya and they both fell to the floor.

“Behind the door!” John Wayne yelled. “Let’s go!”

“What is that?” I cried. “It’s a dead body! Grab the body!”

“No,” John Wayne said as he ran away.

“Grab the body?” Arya said. “We just got hit with that. No!”

Something bellowed loudly from back in the shelves.

“Help me!” I hissed at Arya. “Grab the body! Grab the body!”

“Why?” she asked. “That would just hinder me. Why would I grab the body?”

I ran away as something large came at us. I wasn’t about to argue with her.

“You need to calm down!” Arya yelled as she ran.

The thing bellowed back at her.

“We mean you no harm!” I yelled at the thing as we ran out.

John Wayne slammed the door shut. The thing lumbered quickly towards the door, by the sound of it. I ran back and hid by a crate.

“Where’s the lock?” John Wayne said.

I tossed him the padlock and he locked the door. The roaring immediately stopped the moment the door was shut.

“I don’t believe that was real,” I said. “It’s an illusion. It’s fake.”

“It didn’t feel like an illusion,” Arya said.

“It went off like somebody had just … like … you know … like in the stage,” I said. “You ever see the theater? How they die quickly? Like that.”

John Wayne led us back to the front of the warehouse.

“Shouldn’t we put the produce back?” I said as we walked. “At least we’d have one of the bodies to give back to them if someone had helped me.”

Shmee showed up with a torch as we walked back.

“I’ve got the torch!” he said. “Sorry, there was no fire over here.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said. “There’s some kind of giant monster back there.”

“What!?!” he shrieked.

“That’s what we said,” I said.

He ran away.

“We locked the door for you!” I called after him.

We went to the front of the warehouse.

“Tell you what,” I said. “You two go try to see the captain. I’m going to try to get Dack here.”

“All right,” John Wayne said.

“I’ll be back in five minutes,” I said.

I went out into the street and found another beggar.

“I need you to get Dack Fel here,” I said.

“Right here,” he said.

“Right at that warehouse,” I said, pointing to the warehouse.

“I can’t get him here,” the man said.

“Can you tell him where this warehouse is?”

“Sure.”

“We’re waiting for him. Tell him we’ve been waiting for a very long time.”

“Okay.”

“And we can’t understand why he’s not here.”

“All that?”

“Just make it sound like it’s his fault.”

“All that? His fault? It’s all his fault?”

“We’ve been waiting for him.”

“I like that it’s the thieves’ fault.”

“We’ve been waiting for him like he said.”

I handed him a couple silver coins and returned to the warehouse. I heard shouting from the office as if Arya and John Wayne were yelling at the captain through a door. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but they continued to converse in that way for some time, it seemed. Then they held a short conversation on the catwalk before finally coming back down. I walked up and asked what he’d said.

“He said ‘Deal with it,’” John Wayne said.

“All right, let’s go,” I said. “I’ve got my slingshot. I grabbed a bunch of rocks too, for more bullets.”

We went looking for the first mate couldn’t find him. Then we used the map to try to find a local temple where John Wayne might get healed. The nearest healer was over by the gate that led into the market district. I showed him on the map.

We went looking for the first mate throughout the warehouse and asked some of the workers what his name was: Zult. None of them had seen the man recently. John Wayne left for the temple while Arya and I waited at the warehouse for Dack Fel. We continued looking for the first mate but couldn’t find him anywhere. We discussed investigating more and ended up heading back to the back to try to recover Arya’s arrows.

“I hear whispering,” Arya told me.

We listened at the door.

“Be careful next time,” I heard someone say off to the right.

Something growled in response. Then it sounded like something was dragged away. I gestured for Arya to move away from the door and then I told her what I’d heard. She asked if the whispering sounded familiar but I told her it did not. I suggested we go look for Dack. Arya wanted to look for the first mate.

“What if that was the first mate?” she asked.

“I dunno,” I said. “It might have been.”

We walked back to the front and the first mate entered the warehouse as we got near the entrance.

“We’ve been looking for you,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Well, the captain wanted to find you,” I said. “He was looking for you, and wanted to know where you were. I think he was worried. Are you all right? Are you all right? Are you okay?”

I reached up and touched his arm.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Please. Please don’t touch me.”

“Oh, well I’m sorry,” I said.

He headed up the steps towards the office again. Neither Arya nor I knew where he’d come from. I suggested we look at the outside of the warehouse. We walked out front and I looked around for Dack Fel and then sent Arya around the side of the building to look for a secret entrance into the back of the warehouse. I told her I’d wait there for Dack Fel. She left. Dack Fel arrived a minute or so later.

“Thanks for waking me up, jerk,” he said.

“There you are,” I said. “You were already awake! You left this morning without us.”

“No,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s this note?”

He showed me the note I’d slid under his door.

“Oh, that was a joke,” I said. “That’s my attempt at human humor. Did it work?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, I felt bad, so I sent word to you,” I said. “Did you get the other messages. I sent many.”

He showed me other pieces of paper. Some were ruder than I had been.

“Where’s everyone else?” he asked.

“John Wayne has gone to the temple,” I said. “We fought rats. There’s some kind of giant monster that throws bodies at its weapon, apparently. And John Wayne got scratched and went off to a temple to get healed. And then we were waiting for you.”

“Screw this, do you want to go look for a dog?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “We’re finishing this for these people. You’ve been off doing your own thing all day, so …”

“Yeah, waiting for you. All day.”

“You’ve just been waiting? I left you a note saying where we were and you just waited? And I sent two more notes and you just waited?”

“I went to talk to the thieves’ guild and he said to go to a tavern for jobs for us. For later.”

“Well, there’s some kind of monster in the back and I heard someone whisper ‘Be more careful next time.’”

I told him everything else I could remember of the thing though I forgot about the first mate. I eventually remembered.

“Let’s go kill some rats,” he said.

“We have to wait for John Wayne to get back,” I said.

“We don’t have to wait for him to get back,” he said.

Arya returned. She said she hadn’t found anything. I was very disappointed. We discussed elves noticing secret doors and I told them I thought they could just notice them. Arya told us she hadn’t looked on the other side and I told her to do so. She left with a frown. Dack Fel said he believed someone was using the rat thing as a front. We discussed what might be going on. He believed someone wanted to keep people out of the back of the warehouse for some reason. Arya finally returned but hadn’t found anything but cobwebs.

We headed back to the door and I tried to pick the lock on the padlock without luck. It was a tough one and I asked Dack Fel if he wanted to try. I warned him not to unlatch it, merely unlock it. He tried without luck so I gave it another go but couldn’t get the lock opened. He tried one more time without luck either. I kept an eye out to make sure no one was near us.

We returned to the front of the warehouse to wait for John Wayne. Shmee returned some 30 minutes later.

“How are you?” I asked him. “How you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “Who are you?”

“We’re here to get the rats,” I said.

“Oh!” he said, heading into the warehouse. “Follow me!”

“Wait!” I said. “There’s one more of us. We’re waitin’ for him to show up.”

“Oh, okay,” Shmee said. “I’ll be around, doing my work. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“All right,” I said.

When he walked away I turned to Dack Fel.

“He’s the one that let us in, but he’s acting like he never saw us before,” I said.

“Maybe he got hit on the head,” Dack Fel said.

“But he’s acting like he never saw her before,” I said, pointing at Arya.

She looked at me.

“You stand out in a crowd,” I said of the beautiful elf woman.

“Not very,” she said.

“But you’re gorgeous so you stand out in a crowd,” I said.

“No,” she said. “Among humans. Yeah. I do.”

“And you’re so modest.”

“You should see back at home.”

“I would love to! Let’s go.”

“Hm.”

“What?” Dack Fel said. “What are we doing?”

“Your hair looks nice,” I said to him. “That’s what she said.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said.

“I did not,” she said.

It was over an hour before John Wayne returned.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“A little better,” he said.

“You look … I can’t say you look better,” Dack Fel said. “Because I didn’t know how you looked before.”

“Let’s go back in there,” I said. “C’mon. We got Shmee. He doesn’t remember us. At all.”

“Shmee’s back?” John Wayne said.

I pointed him out.

“How about the first mate?” John Wayne asked.

I told him how he had appeared after we’d left the back and of our suspicions of him. We also talked about the whispering in the back and Arya walking around the exterior of the warehouse. Arya used some of Dack Fel’s bandages to bind her own wounds.

“I thought we were looking for a dog,” Dack Fel said.

“Just ignore him,” I said.

“Let me look at the map,” Dack Fel said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I just want to look at it.”

I handed him the map and he looked over it for a minute. John Wayne wanted to find the first mate and we quickly did. He was barking orders to people in the warehouse.

“Did you mention to him about the monster?” Dack Fel asked. “The first mate?”

“No,” I said. “No one was told but Shmee.”

“I thought we told the captain,” Arya said.

“I don’t know what you told the captain,” I said. “I was outside.”

“Did we tell the captain that?” Arya asked.

“Yeah, we did,” John Wayne said to her.

“So, he doesn’t know we know,” Dack Fel said. “So … and he was apparently gone. You couldn’t find him.”

“What is your point?” I asked.

“Ask him about it and see his reaction,” Dack Fel said. “If he denies it, then …”

“Go ahead,” I said.

“No, it’s your idea, Rory,” he said.

“This is your idea!” I said.

We approached the first mate.

“What can I help you with?” he asked.

“So, about the rats … uh … we killed some of them,” John Wayne said. “As we went to go back to the warehouse to find more, there was something else back there. It … frankly was a little freaky. It’s … like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s large, like a massive dog … like a bear and a dog.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand,” he said.

“I don’t either,” John Wayne said. “Has there been anything … have you found anything in that part of the warehouse that is, in any way, suspicious?”

“No, we just had a lot of rats. And a lot of rats together means you need a lot of people to kill them.”

I looked around to see where Shmee was but there was no sign of him.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go get those rats, then.” I turned to Arya. “You all right? You feel better? You smell like lemon water.”

John Wayne asked the first mate for a torch and the man left us for a couple of minutes, returning with a rod. He handed it to me and told me there was a light spell upon it. Once it was dark, we would be able to see it. Arya suggested John Wayne carry it. I handed it off to her and she tucked it in her belt.

We went to look for Shmee and found him carrying a box onto a ship. I waited for him to come back and, when he returned, I told him we were going back to kill the rats and asked him if he had a key to the lock. He led us back to the back again.

“Don’t forget to ask him to get a torch, right before we go in,” I whispered to the others.

“We’ve got a torch,” both John Wayne and Arya told me.

“Just do it,” I said. “See how he reacts.”

Then I turned to Shmee.

“I see the door is locked, Shmee,” I said.

The youth went to the door.

“You ready?” he said. “I’m going to open it for you!”

He unlocked it, then swung back the doorway and leapt back. Then he screamed and ran away. I called after him, asking him to get a torch.

Four rats were in the doorway, just as before. They rushed forward again.

I was in the back and didn’t have a shot so I pulled back on my slingshot and stood ready. Dack Fel had drawn his knives and moved to one side of John Wayne. He flung a dagger into the doorway but it missed. Arya shot one of the rats dead, actually pinning it into the clay floor. John Wayne had some kind of punching daggers on his hands. He punched at one of the rats but missed. He skewered the second rat, killing it instantly. It was stuck on his punching dagger.

I still didn’t have a shot so I waited. Dack Fel flung another knife, skewering another rat, and I cheered. Arya shot another rat, again skewering the thing into the floor.

Dack Fel and Arya recovered their daggers and arrows.

“They’re on the right,” I whispered. “It’s on the right. The right is where the stuff is.”

The bodies of the rats we’d killed before were gone. Arya suggested they had been dragged off and eaten by the other rats. I suggested we get the others out of the area. However, when I picked up a rat, I noticed it was lighter than it should be. I examined it more closely.

“Why you looking at the rat for, Rory?” Dack Fel asked.

“Here,” I said, pointing to another rat. “Pick that up. Pick one of these up.”

Dack Fel did so and then cut into the rat with his dagger. It vanished. I didn’t notice until he did it until another one. Dack Fel suggested I try to stab mine but I was of the opinion we should try a different method, pointing out John Wayne had stabbed one, which was still on his punching knife but it hadn’t disappeared. Instead of stabbing it, I felt the dead rat. It felt like a rat but was not nearly heavy enough to be one. It was quite confusing. Blood still dripped from it.

I handed the rat to Dack Fel. Then I moved to the doorway to watch for anything else to come. When he asked if I wanted him to stab it, I told him he could do what he wanted, and explained the rat felt real, though it weighed far less than it should. I suggested he chop the tail off and he did, but nothing unusual happened. Then he laid the rat down on the floor and it vanished like the rest when he cut it.

“So, would you like this?” John Wayne said, brandishing his rat at me.

“Not really … why would want that?” I said. Then I had a thought. “Pebble it!”

“I want to cut this one,” Arya said.

“Here ya go,” John Wayne said.

Dack Fel snatched it out of his hand and then pulled out his pebble.

“What are you doing?” Arya said.

“I’m pebbling it,” Dack Fel said.

He touched the rat and it turned into a small block of cheese. Then it started shrinking. I backed away and Dack Fel put it down on the ground. Then it vanished.

“That’s so weird,” I whispered.

Dack Fel told us his blade had hit something and it had felt solid, like metal or glass. I guessed it was some kind of clockwork. He said it felt more like glass or crystal.

“Quick, get the wand out,” Dack Fel said. “Summon a kobold.”

“A goblin?” I said.

“A goblin,” he said. “Whatever.”

“I don’t know how that wand works … okay!” I said.

I took out the wand.

“Do you hear that?” Dack Fel said.

“Hear what?” I asked.

“Sounds like a thumping,” he said.

“We heard something before, right before we saw the thing,” I said.

Nervous, I pointed the wand and concentrated. A moment later, an armed goblin appeared next to me. My jaw dropped! I was not really expecting it to work.

“Hello!” I said. “Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! I have the wand. Are you here for me? Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you! Nice to meet you!”

He was armed with a sword and shook my hand when I gave it to him.

“Go kill some things in there,” I said. “Not these.”

I pointed to my companions. The goblin looked at the door and then ran in.

“Let’s go!” I said, giving chase.

“Rory, that’s not why I wanted the goblin for,” Dack Fel said.

I tucked the wand back into my belt and took out my slingshot once again, following the goblin in excitement. I gave the creature about 10 feet of space, just in case. I followed him through a maze of shelves into a spot that opened up into a space about 25 feet by 25 feet. The others followed behind me. The goblin ran to the far wall of the room and started scratching at a grate which was very dark.

“This is the best!” I said to myself.

Then I turned to the rest.

“This is where the thing came from!” I hissed to them

There were shadows in the corners of the room so I slipped to one and hid. The others entered the room, Arya ready with her bow, John Wayne with his punching daggers, and Dack Fel, sword in one hand and dagger in another, standing near where we came in.

“All right, hold on, hold on, hold on,” I said to the goblin.

He didn’t listen and I realized I’d told him to kill everyone but my friends in the area. He was just following orders. Dack Fel kept an eye on where we’d come from and I watched the grate. With a crash, the wall over the grate bulged and fell onto the goblin, who vanished completely under the rubble with a squeak.

A pink creature standing well over six feet tall burst out. It had long hair that grew from the top of its head, partially covering its eyes. It looked like a mix between a giant, naked mole rat and a bear. I recognized it from a story my gram-gram had told me years ago. It was a rat ogre. They would come through and steal children if they didn’t do their chores. It looked exactly like she had described.

It glared at Arya and then rushed her with a roar. It was terrifying. The thing tried to maul her but she ducked out of the way.

I moved across the room to flank the thing and fired my slingshot at the rat ogre and struck him in the back of the head. It was an excellent shot. Arya, right in front of the thing, fired her bow at it as it tried to maul her again. The arrow flew off into the darkness. John Wayne punched at the horrible thing with his punching daggers. He struck the thing with both of them and the thing stumbled. Dack Fel moved around the room and stepped between the rat ogre and me and then stabbed it in the back.

Then someone punched me from behind. I screamed in terror and a fist flew by my head as he tried to hit me again.

“There’s monks behind me!” I screamed.

The rat ogre tried to attack Arya again but stumbled. I tried to tumble away from the horrible hole but was struck in the back of the head and everything went black.

* * *

I awoke some time later to find myself still in the terrible room. Arya was above me, lightly slapping my face. My head hurt horribly and the light from the windows hurt my eyes.

“Aw,” I muttered. “Someone hit me in the head.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Don’t worry, I hit them back,” Dack Fel said.

Their voices were muffled and dull. It hurt me to listen to them.

“What’s wrong with your voice?” I said.

I felt terrible.

“Where’s the … the … you know … the thing?” I asked.

“It’s gone,” Dack Fel said. “Don’t worry.”

“Where’s my … you know … my thing?” I asked.

“Your slingshot?” Dack Fel asked.

“No,” I said. “My slingshot.”

“Yeah … oh,” Dack Fel said.

He handed me my slingshot and I tucked it away. I sat there for some time, my hands over my eyes for the most part, trying to figure out where I was and what had happened. I felt awful.

“Are we safe?” I asked.

“Yeah, we’re safe,” Dack Fel said as they continued to fiddle around.

“My head hurts,” I muttered.

“We’ll get you some water,” Arya said to me. “Later.”

I felt my head and found there was no blood but my skull ached.

“Does anyone know what the writing on this ring is?” John Wayne said.

“I’ll take a look at it,” Dack Fel said.

Arya left my side as she, presumably, looked at the ring as well.

“Why are we still here?” I muttered. “Did we win?”

“We’re searching the guy that punched you in the back of the head,” Dack Fel said.

“There was a … is there more than one?” I muttered. “What’s behind that wall?”

“We killed the thing and he freaked out,” Dack Fel said. “So, I think there’s just him.”

“That wasn’t the question that I asked.”

“We don’t know. We haven’t been there.”

“Go look before more monsters show up. What is this thing we’re looking at?”

“Give me the light.”

“A ring,” John Wayne said. “Please.”

“Ring?” I said. “What ring? I’m so confused.”

They went to search the hole in the wall the rat ogre had come from. He had the light stick Arya had been carrying and Dack Fel fiddled. I suggested he tap the floor.

“Go in!” I said.

“There could be stuff in there,” he said.

“If there’s anything that could kill us it would have killed us by now,” I said. “That back wall. There’s something behind that back wall. Over there. There’s something behind this wall.”

“Make sure he doesn’t wake up,” Dack Fel said, pointing at the body on the floor.

“There’s something another wall,” I muttered. “There’s probably something behind all of the walls!” I gasped. “They’re behind all the walls!”

“Arya, come with me, please,” Dack Fel said.

“I think there’s a wall hiding behind the walls,” I muttered.

Dack Fel and Arya went into the hole in the wall. I got my goblin wand out. John Wayne held out a ring.

“Come over here, Rory,” John Wayne said to me. “What is this?”

“What is … put it on the end of my wand,” I muttered.

“Just come look at it,” he said. “No.”

“Put it on my wand,” I said again. “Put it on my … wand.”

I giggled.

“Put your ring on my wand,” I said.

I found that immensely funny for some reason.

“The walls are going to try to kill us all!” I hissed at him. “The walls are going to kill us!”

He kept trying to get him to go over by the hole in the wall. I refused, certain the walls were out to get us.

“It’s the walls trying to kill us,” I said. “All the bad stuff comes out of the walls.”

“What are you talking about?” John Wayne said.

“The walls are evil!” I hissed.

Dack Fel stepped back out into the room.

“It’s a pocket dimension,” he said.

Things were finally starting to make sense. I told them about the rat ogres.

“We should have it stuffed,” I said.

Dack Fel went to the body.

“I wanna stuff it,” I said. “What are you doing?”

The man who lay in the corner started to stir. He was all in black and the scarf had been pulled from his face so I could see it.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“That’s the one that hit you,” Dack Fel said.

“Who’s that?” I asked again.

“That’s the one that hit you in the head,” Dack Fel said.

John Wayne moved to the man, who was slurring swears.

“Take his clothes off,” I muttered. “He won’t run very far.”

I stood up.

“Hey, it’s your gran here,” Dack Fel said to the man. “It’s your gran.”

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Seeing if we can get him to speak,” he said.

“Why don’t we just take - he’s a criminal!” I said.

I walked over to him.

“Let’s just go,” I said. “Let’s take him out of here. Is he tied up? He’s not even tied up! Anyone got rope? String?”

I removed the man’s cloak and started to rip strips off it to tie his hands and his feet. As soon as I tried to grab his hands to tie him up, he shoved me and pushed me off. I stumbled back and the man leapt into the darkness behind the wall, vanishing from sight.

“Well, that was very helpful,” I muttered.

I left, walking back among the shelves until I reached the door to that area. I was so angry. They had taken the time and effort to take a prisoner and then made no provisions for keeping him. It was ridiculous. I was done with that entire warehouse. My head hurt, I felt like I’d been misused, and was completely fed up. I walked all the way to the front doors of the warehouse to wait. I didn’t even care about stuffing the rat ogre anymore.

A few minutes later, Arya and John Wayne came out of the warehouse with the rat ogre.

“Oh good,” I said.

“We took care of it,” Arya said.

The first mate, nearby, turned and ran up the stairs, bumping into Dack Fel as he went. Dack Fel headed up to the office as well.

“Thanks for bringing this out,” I said to Arya and John Wayne. “Should we get it stuffed?”

“Yeah!” she said. “Let’s do it.”

“Don’t eat it,” I said.

“No,” she said.

“It’s foul,” I said.

“It smells,” she said.

There was yelling coming from up above. Then Captain Louis and the first mate ran down the stairs and approached us as I took out the magical deluxe map and looked for taxidermists. There was one in the market district that’s advertisement consisted of the head of a bear and a title: “I Stuff Things!” Then I looked for teamsters and a place to rent a cart.

“Holy crap!” Captain Louis bellowed. “I didn’t know they stacked shit that high! Did you kill this?”

“Yes,” Arya said.

“Yes,” John Wayne said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I got the final blow,” Dack Fel said. “We killed this!”

“Is this what was causing the rats?” Captain Louis asked.

“Probably,” Dack Fel said.

“This was what was killing the people you were sending back there, I think,” I said.

“Yeah,” Arya said.

“Really?” Captain Louis said. “Huh.”

“There’s some kind of … what’s in … there’s a back room back there too,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“Iunno,” I said.

“What back room?” Captain Louis said.

“There’s a back room that’s−” Dack Fel said.

“Okay, this guy busts through the wall,” Arya said.

“Show me,” Captain Louis said. “Show me. Are you sure that thing’s dead? Someone take its head off!”

“No,” I said. “It’s dead. Don’t take its head.”

He glared at me.

“Then take it out of my warehouse!” he said.

“Take it out of the warehouse,” I said to Arya and John Wayne. “Take it right around the corner.”

They dragged it out front of the warehouse and I sat on it. Captain Louis asked them to show him the back room while Arya and I stayed to guard our prize. We discussed the house we’d live in someday, or at least I did. The others were gone for a little while. Then they were marched out of the warehouse by the captain and headed for the nearest guard station. They talked to a guard for a few moments. I found that a little odd but didn’t feel like thinking about it as thinking made my head hurt. Then they returned.

“All right, let me get your payment,” Captain Louis said.

I looked on the map for a place to rent a cart. The nearest was in the market district.

Arya and I talked about getting a wagon to move the rat ogre carcass. It took me a bit to convince her to go get a wagon while I guarded the carcass. She eventually left.

“Rory, go follow that guard that just took the pebble,” John Wayne said to me.

“What?” I said.

“Do it,” Dack Fel said.

“No!” I said.

“Tell us where he’s going,” Dack Fel said.

“We need you to,” John Wayne said.

“I’m staying with my prize, here,” I said. “You go.”

“Rory, please,” John Wayne said.

“No,” I said.

Dack Fel headed off to follow the guard. He returned a few moments later and told us the man was gone.

“I didn’t really realize it was that big of a problem but this is what I’ve got,” Captain Louis said when he came back down.

He handed a sack to John Wayne. He looked through it and gave us each five gold coins. Captain Louis thanked us for the help and told us if we were ever looking for a job moving freight or on the sea, they could always use good hands to help, especially bodyguards.

“A lot of people need bodyguards,” he said.

I told him we’d get rid of the carcass. It was some 30 minutes later when Arya returned with a cart and driver. We loaded up the rat ogre into the cart and took it to the taxidermist.

“If the rats disappeared when I stabbed them, what do you think it’s going to do when a taxidermist dissects the big one?” Dack Fel asked as we rode.

“How much did this thing weigh?” I asked John Wayne.

“Around 300 pounds,” he said.

“How much did those rats weigh?” I asked. “Nothing. This is real!”

“So you think,” John Wayne said.

“So are the clowns,” I said. I looked at the clown standing nearby. “I see you, clown!”

We got some odd stares but I had dropped down into the back of the cart and dozed. I felt awful. I pulled out the map at one point and figured out where we were going.

“When he gets to his stomach, he’s going to find body parts and bones,” Dack Fel suddenly said.

“Probably,” Arya replied.

“Ew,” Dack Fel said.

“That’s his job,” I muttered.

The taxidermist proved to be a gnome. He had a lazy left eye, was a little bit twitchy, and named Samuel.

“Can you stuff this?” I asked, pointing at the rat ogre in the cart.

“Yes, I can,” he said. “I can do it lickety split too!”

“Can we see some of your work?” I asked.

“Of course!” he said. “Follow me!”

We looked over some of his work and most of them looked very nice. One or two were really, really bad.

“What’s with this?” I asked, pointing at one of the terrible ones

“That’s … that’s my apprentice Jeremiah,” he said. “He’s not too good with his hands.”

“All right, all right,” I said. “How much to stuff this thing?”

“It’s going to cost you about 50 silver and it’ll take me two days!” he said.

“All right,” I said.

I paid him the 50 silver coins and gave him my name and where I was staying.

“Can you make it look ferocious?” I asked.

“Yes, I can,” he said.

“Can you make it hold this sword?” Dack Fel asked.

“Stop it!” I said to him.

“Do you want it to be magically inclined?” Samuel asked.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“We got basic animation spells to scare your neighbors,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said.

“It’s great during the Pumpkinseed Festival,” Samuel said.

“I’ll pay for it,” Dack Fel said.

“No!” I said. “You won’t. No no no. No magic is necessary.”

“Okay,” Samuel said.

“But thanks for offering,” I said.

“All right,” he said.

He brought out a small piece of paper and asked me to put my hand on it. It showed where I was currently staying.

“Oh, that’s not good!” he cried. “Where are you going to keep this thing? You can’t keep it at the inns.”

“Why not?” I asked. “It’s not a pet.”

“They won’t let you keep it there,” he cried. “It’s too much!”

“All right, we’ll find someplace within the next couple days,” I said.

“You have two days to do it!”

“Yes sir.”

“You sure?”

“Here’s a question. If I pay you, could you store it for me, maybe for an extra day or two?”

“Uh … it’ll cost you …” Samuel took out an abacus and started to move beads around. “It’ll cost you 10 silver a day because that is relatively big.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “I’m going to try to find a place before then though.”

“That’s good!” he cried. “That’s good! If not, I know where you are.”

I paid half of the cost up front and told him I’d return in two days.

We returned to the Scented Seasons Inn. It was close to dinnertime already and I hadn’t even had lunch, not to mention late breakfast and late lunch or early dinner. I went back to my room and put some coins into the box to pay for the next night. I was already paid for that night but I’d decided to keep a day or so ahead of my payments so I wouldn’t forget.

We all sat down and had a good dinner. There was pheasant, wild rice, and fresh vegetables for dinner. There was also raspberry mead with the meal and I got as much as I could. I was exhausted so again went to bed early. I found a note under my door. It merely read “I hate you guys.” It looked like Dack Fel’s handwriting.

* * *

I awoke in the night, or dreamed I did. I felt very groggy. I thought I saw a weird figure by the pouch that held the rings and the glasses. It was on my nightstand, for some reason. I must have dropped it there instead of under my pillow, where I usually hid it at night. The figure appeared to be looking at the items. I couldn’t move. Then I fell back to sleep. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1957-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Three-Rats
<![CDATA[Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - Luxit Sol Campaign Session Two - Thieves in the Big City]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1956-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Two-Thieves-in-the-Big-City Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:18:15 GMT Monday, October 26, 2015

(After playing Kit Howard’s D&D 3.5 game Friday, October 23, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with James Dixon, Ethan Gordon, and Katelyn Hogan.)

From the recollections of Rory Buttertongue - Halfling

On our week-long wagon ride to the city of Denrith, I looked at the magic items I’d found, especially the spectacles and the three rings. I tried on the glasses and the rings, all to no avail. They didn’t seem to do anything. The spectacles didn’t even magnify my vision in the least. I wondered if there was some magic about the items. They felt like they belonged together. I put them away for future study.

We finally arrived at the city. It was immense and stretched as far as I could see along the coast. The wall was 50 feet high and completely made of stone, appearing very solid, almost as if it was made of a single, giant rock. There were guards on the stations and the ramparts as well as patrolling. The main gates were some 30 feet wide by 30 feet high. A portcullis was up in front of them. The wooden doors each had a great sun sigil. A small shack stood next to the gate where a few old, crippled men wearing the red tunics embossed with the sun symbol stood.

As we approached, a small, squat man with a bald spot on his head and spectacles hobbled to the cart.

“Newly graduated recruits, I see!” he said. “Okay guys, come here. We’ll make this quick for you.”

He opened up a tiny book, only perhaps a few inches by a few inches. It was also flat with almost no pages.

“All right, who is first?” he said. “Who is first?”

“I guess Cap’n’s first,” Dack Fel said. “Cap’n? Is that what we call him?”

I walked up and the man opened up the book.

“Please put your hand here,” he said.

“Where?” I said.

“Just right here,” he said, indicating the blank page to the left.

I put my hand on the left page and my name appeared on the right page, where I was coming from, and that I was just getting out of basic training. On the bottom there was some weird scribbled script.

“What’s that weird scribbled script?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I never know. I can only read that.”

He pointed to the words.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Next!” he said.

I stepped aside and he flipped the page, going to John Wayne and then Dack Fel, who was cautious about putting his hand in. He then had Arya, Stephen, and the driver, who I’d learned was named Jory, do it as well. I asked the man if there were any unusual laws of the city we might need to know about. He said there were not. I asked if we were allowed to carry weapons and he said we were. He noted that murder and theft would send a man to jail.

“If you’d like to go see Ishaak inside, he’ll give you a tour of the city,” the man said. “Please, please move on.”

We entered Denrith and quickly found Ishaak. He was a lean man with an angular face, very dark features, and rugged clothing: a reddish top and white pants.

“Welcome! Hello!” he said. “My name is Ishaak and I’m going to give you your tour today! I can give you a rundown of the areas and what to expect. It’ll also take up to about an hour. Or you can just about your own way, it’s up to you. Really. What would you like to do?”

We decided to take the tour.

“Sirs, sirs,” he said. “First, first, let me show you something. We have amazing maps of the city, especially since you’re new. Let me show you.”

He took out a map of the city and showed it to us. I asked where we were and he pointed at part of the map marked “Gate.” There was a small dot there. The city also was marked with several sections: the market, the slums, nobles, the docks, and the military district. He pointed at the dot.

“As you move along in the city, this will show you,” he said.

“We get to keep that?” I asked.

“No, you have to buy this,” he said.

“Oh, how much?” I said.

“This is from the government,” he said. “But we also have the deluxe edition. It’s 50 silver for the map, but it is imbued with magic, remember? It will show you where you are in the quarters.”

“Will it show anybody else where we are?” Dack Fel asked.

“I’ll take it!” I said.

“You take …?” Ishaak said. “You sure you don’t want the deluxe edition? It’ll show you each individual section. Except part of the slums.”

“How much is the deluxe edition?” I asked.

“That one’s a little bit steeper, especially because you have to go with each individual one and it comes out to two gold,” he said. “But it will show you where all the inns are and some more important things.”

“Well, let’s see it,” I said. “The deluxe edition: let’s see it. Have you got one?”

He took out a scroll of paper and showed me the deluxe edition. When he tapped on the different sections of the city, it magically zoomed in on each. I told him I’d buy it. Dack Fel suggested everyone chip in but I told him I’d cover it. I paid the two gold and got the magical map from the man. I tucked it away.

Ishaak ushered us into a cart and he mounted the front of it. He told us there were 18,000 people in the city though many were moving away. Most of the people in the city were under government pay. In 15 years, the new capital city would be completed and most people would move there. He told us there were four different docks, one for those coming into the country who were not citizens, the regular docks, the military docks, and the noblemen’s docks, connected to the noble’s district.

The cart path we traveled down was pleasant and the city laid out in a very casual and spread out fashion. He showed us the market district and then the military district. He pointed out the mage quarters, part of which lay in the military quarter. He told us they could cast magical spells to identify magical items. There were four large mage’s towers there.

There was a single inn in the noble’s quarters. It was called the Sleeping Beauty. Guards patrolled the noble’s quarter and there were a few guards at the gate, though they didn’t seem to be stopping people passing through. I asked Ishaak if they closed the gate at night and he said they didn’t, but they increased patrols in the district. We passed the slum quarter as well, Ishaak noting he didn’t go in there. He pointed out part of the slums was unmarked on any map. We passed and it looked dark within. A large tarp hang over the wall.

“The tarp pretty much covers the slums,” Ishaak said. “It’s almost eternal dusk to night.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why’s there a tarp?”

“Because they like to do things in the dark and it’s always dark there, so they get to do whatever they want,” he said.

“No questions asked?” Dack Fel said.

“Um …” Ishaak said.

“That’s so strange,” I said. “Where’d they get the tarp from?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“So they just put up a tarp so nobody can see what’s going on?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” he said.

“There’s some strange people living in there,” I said.

“So, I guess they take care of their own laws in there, outside of the city’s laws or something?” Dack Fel said.

“No, they do have a patrol that go in there,” Ishaak said. “Which, those guys are actually quite scary, as well. It’s a patrol of six or more.”

“Okay,” Dack Fel said.

“They go and they go ready to kill,” Ishaak said.

“Oh!” Dack Fel said.

“The thieves’ guild is in there,” Ishaak went on. “There are two inns in there.”

“We can afford those inns!” Dack Fel said.

When Ishaak noted people were moving to the new metropolis, I asked about it. He said the government had reinforced Denrith after the Dwarf Wars. Then the king had gotten the idea to construct a new capital, “the ultimate defense,” and started an 85-year building plan to get the city ready. It was almost done. The Luxit Sol people knew how to hold a grudge. It had been three generations of men since the war and they still hated the dwarves.

The central part of the city had a thick wall some 20 feet tall with metal spikes atop it. A castle stood in the middle of the area, visible from where we were. At least the battlements and towers were visible.

Most of the houses in the market had shops in the bottom with a second floor, ostensibly for living. In other parts of the city, the houses were a little taller and probably held smaller apartments. The noble district, of course, had great houses of magnificent craftsmanship. When Dack Fel asked about purchasing a house in town, Ishaak told us there was a housing authority in the market. Dack Fel wanted a base of operations.

“We could … we could just be squatters,” I said. Then I had even a better thought. “Let’s find a church and establish our own religion! We’ll make plenty of money that way.”

There were a few temples but they all had a sun emblem and we learned from Ishaak they were all dedicated to the sun god, Aesur, which was the state religion of Luxit Sol. When I asked if other religions were forbidden, he noted in major cities and especially the capital, everyone worshipped the god of the king. Dack Fel announced he worshipped Kord. Ishaak told us temples or churches to other gods were outside of the city. The capital was completely off limits to other temples, however.

We learned there were three inns in the market: Scented Seasons Inn, Inn of Four Feathers, and the Sleepy Lamb Inn. I asked what he recommended and he said they were all good and relatively cheap. It depended on what we liked.

“Is the Scented Seasons a brothel?” Dack Fel asked.

“No,” Ishaak said.

“Is there a brothel?” Dack Fel asked.

“Yes,” Ishaak said.

“Okay.”

“It’s in the slums.”

“Oh. Ew. Go figure.”

“I mean there’s also one in the noble’s quarters but it’s been forbidden in the market because of the type of trade that goes on in the market.”

“I understand. I don’t want to go there, I was just wondering where they were because I want to steer clear of the ladies around those areas.”

“There’s probably some guild-affiliated whores around somewhere,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Dack Fel said. “I can make friends.”

Ishaak noted the Thieves’ Guild was in the slums and the head of it was a man by the name of Klein. He said there was also a beggar’s guild there. The two inns in the slums were called the Dark Passenger and the Sleepy Drunk.

He also showed us where the mages lived.

“Are there any bards in this town?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“They sing songs?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And they know histories?”

“Yes.”

“That’s who we ask about … certain things.”

He also told us there were two notice boards up across the street from the Scented Seasons: the help board and the job board. The difference between them was the help board had notices put up by civilians while the job board had notices put up by companies. The job notices would have information on jobs available in the city, including who to talk to and how dangerous the job was.

“Maybe we should stay there,” I said of the Scented Seasons. “It sounds perfect for you … Dack.”

“I want to find a trainer,” Arya said.

“What was it?” Dack Fel said. “I was asleep.”

“The Scented Seasons,” I said.

“What about it?” he said.

“It’s where the job board is,” John Wayne said.

“It’s an inn,” I said. “The job board is across the street.”

“Oh,” Dack Fel said. “Sorry. I kind of fell asleep back in the mage’s quarter.”

“Oh,” Arya said.

“Shall I slap you hard next time you do?” I asked. “Help keep you awake? I could. I’d be glad to help. I’ll even warm my hands first. Just like this.”

I rubbed my hands together.

“It’s been a long day,” he said. “My leg still hurts.”

“Is there a job board in the slums?” Dack Fel asked.

“Uh … I don’t know,” Ishaak said.

“Why would you ask him that?” I asked. “You think he’s a thief or something? Why would you want a job from the slums? Are you a thief!?!”

Ishaak only had the tour information and never went in the slums, he told us. He noted he couldn’t protect us in there. Dack Fel said it was fine.

“Are there archery grounds?” Arya asked.

“You’ll have to talk to the military about that,” Ishaak said.

“Okay,” she replied.

“For most of your trainers−” he said.

“Just go in the slums and find a target,” I said.

I remembered talking to the wizards when they gave us a physical at the beginning of my training, some months before. They had us fill out a piece of paper and then used magic to inscribe the information into each of us as our personal data. That was how they tracked our citizenship. I guessed that was the information in the book at the main gate. Ishaak told us the information that involved the military were all filled out with that information.

I asked Ishaak if the military could seize magic items and the like if they wanted but he said they couldn’t. The law stated the military could not rightfully seize any of our possessions. However, they might come talk to us if we had an item that proved dangerous, and possibly ask us to leave the city.

Dack Fel was talking about having a crest for our group, which didn’t make any sense to me. He noted if we were going to have our group, we needed our own symbol.

We left the cart and I tipped Ishaak 20 silver pieces for the tour. Dack Fel suggested we split up and talk to whomever we needed to talk to. I suggested we get rooms at the inn first. Arya was ready to find someone to train her. John Wayne suggested the Scented Seasons so we headed there. We saw the job boards across the street.

I headed into the inn with the others close behind me. Dack Fel went to look at the board.

I could smell incense even outside of the inn and it was almost overpowering when we entered. The common room was brightly lit and had an attached kitchen. The smell of delicious food filled the air. A dark-skinned man walked around the taproom, his hands clasped.

“Yes, good evening, good evening,” he said to us.

His eyes moved around constantly.

“Would you like a room?” he asked. “Are you new to the city? I’ve never seen you before.”

“Can we get four rooms, I guess?” I asked. “How much are a room?”

“Four rooms?” Dack Fel said. “How about one room?”

“Yes,” the old man said. “Rooms will be three silver pieces a night.”

“Three?” I asked.

“Yes, three,” he said.

“That’s a bargain!” I said.

“And if you’d like, for two silver pieces, your meals will be included,” the old man said. “We have a lock, we have two different types. One’s kind of small, one’s kind of large. That’s about it. Five copper for a small one and one silver for a large one.”

He showed us the locks. The larger was iron and probably fit the door. The smaller was copper and was smaller but could be used on a chest. I told the man I’d take a room with meals, and a large lock and small lock. The total came to six silver coins and five copper coins. The old man wore a butcher’s frock covered with blood. His fingernails were long and dirty.

“We could eat at the restaurant across the street,” Dack Fel whispered to me.

“No no,” the old man said. “I kill the food. My wives cook.”

“Oh, okay,” Dack Fel said. “I was a little worried.”

“Don’t be insulting!” I said to him.

“Yeah, it is okay,” the old man said. “It is very okay.”

“I believe you,” Dack Fel said.

Arya paid for her room and a lock. The others paid as well.

He took us upstairs and showed us four rooms next to each other down the hallway. Outside of each was a small box with a slot in the top. Each room had a small bed, a small chest at the foot of it, a small table with a low stool, and a single oil lamp. The window of the room had shutters and it looked out over the market in front of the building. I peeked under the bed. There was no chamber pot. The old man mentioned the box by the outside of the door was where we were to pay for our rooms. If we didn’t do so before dinner of the night we wanted to stay, they would move our things out into the taproom.

“Looks nice,” I said.

The whole place stank of incense. I opened the windows and wondered what smell they were using it to cover.

“Where do we poop?” Dack Fel asked.

“If you would like a chamber pot, my wives can bring one to you,” the old man said.

“Just wanted to check,” Dack Fel said. “Because I’ve got to go soon.”

“Oh, okay,” the old man said. “You have to go right now?”

“No, I can wait,” Dack Fel said.

“Okay,” the old man said. “If there’s anything else you need, I’ll be right in the kitchen.”

“I hope he doesn’t cook the food …” I said.

“He kills the food,” Arya said.

“He kills the food,” Dack Fel said.

I was doubtful.

Dack Fel said he had a quest for us even as I locked my chest with the copper lock.

“‘Cripple looking to move to new metropolis,’” Dack Fel read. “‘Need help loading carts. Will pay and provide food for service.’ I figure we could just … his name’s Dale.”

“Dale?” John Wayne said.

“His name’s Dale,” Dack Fel said again. “It seems like a pretty good, simple task, helping a cripple.”

I looked at the job posting.

“Why would loading a cart have combat written on the sheet?” I asked.

“Just in case we’re attacked by rats?” he said. “I don’t know. He’s a cripple. I don’t know about you, Rory, but I think we three could do it.”

I examined the box outside of the door and found it only had a slot. There didn’t appear to be any way to open it. I suspected magic.

“So, you guys want to go talk to this cripple guy?” Dack Fel asked.

We discussed it but I suggested we do it the next day. Everyone wanted to look for someone to train them. When Dack Fel asked what I wanted to do, I told him I wanted to explore the unexplored areas of the map.

“So, you want to get killed by a purse snatcher/cutthroat?” he said sarcastically. “That sounds smart.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

“Are you going by yourself or are you taking someone with you?” he asked.

“I was going to go by myself,” I said.

“Don’t bring any money with you, all right?”

“Oh, that’s a good idea.”

I locked up most of my money in the chest in my room. I held onto 20-30 silver coins.

“Do you want me to go with you?” he asked. “We could team up, if you want.”

“If you want,” I said. “I might be dealing with some shady fellas.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “I’m used to shady fellows.”

“I’ve also got this,” I whispered.

I pulled out the magic wand I’d taken from the kobold magician.

“But you don’t know how to use it!” Dack Fel said.

“You point it, they appear,” I said. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

“Hey, Rory, look what I figured out how to do,” he said. “What’s your favorite color?”

“I’m partial to blue,” I said.

His cloak suddenly turned blue and he told me he’d figured that out the other day. I suggested he might not want to make it quite so royal a blue if we were going to head into a place with thieves. The cloak turned dirt brown and ratty immediately.

We all went our separate ways, Dack Fel and I heading for the slums together. As we walked, I learned that Dack Fel was not his real name.

“What is your real name?” I asked him.

“My real name isn’t important,” he said.

“It could be very important,” I said.

“It’s not,” he said. “It’s not. Yeah, it’s very important, but−”

“I don’t know if I should trust you if you’re not going to tell me your real name.”

“The more people that know my real name−”

“I’m the only one!”

“−the more chance that they can use it against me.”

“Pft!”

“It’s like, yeah, I could go around telling people my real name, but … uh … I feel like an alias is much safer considering what we’re all here to do. Is your real name Rory Buttertongue?”

“Yes!”

“Is anybody out to kill you though?”

“Well, there was this farmer named Gobo. He didn’t like me ‘cause his girl liked me better than she liked him.”

“Oh, and you liked the girl I imagine too?”

“For a little while.”

“I can understand that. But … is he in charge of an entire country that you were part of the military of?”

“No, just a farm. He had several cows though.”

“Several cows.”

“We’ve known each other for a decent while now.”

“You and me? Six months.”

“Yeah. But … uh … I just feel that what you call me now is perfectly fine.”

“Fine.”

“Maybe I’ll tell everybody sometime later.”

“Everybody? Oh, I see. I thought we were buds.”

“We’re the two sneaky guys. We are buds.”

“Hm.”

“We got each other’s back, I feel like.”

“Hm.”

We reached the slums and entered the gates to the place. There were a few people there and it looked like a back alley. A sign nearby pointed in the direction of the Thieves’ Guild, apparently. I, at first thought it was a trap, until I realized like everything else in the city, it was government-controlled. We followed the signs through the maze of the slums. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, though it was still filled with ruffians and bottom feeders. It took us about 10 minutes to find the guild hall. The building had a sign out front that marked it as the Thieves’ Guild.

“This is NOT what I expected,” I said.

“No,” Dack Fel said. “Yeah, I agree.”

We went into the small building. A single man sat in the main room of the building. He looked up. He wore a long brown coat and heavy boots. He flung a knife at the ceiling and it would get stuck, then fall a few moments later. He would catch it and throw it back to the ceiling. I walked in, whistling.

“Can I help you?” the man asked.

“We’re here from the military,” Dack Fel said.

“Okay,” the man said. “And …?”

“We’re here to join the Thieves’ Guild,” Dack Fel said.

“We’re registering,” I said. “We don’t want to get our hands cut off.”

“That’s wise,” he said. “That’s a very wise thing.”

“I’m not very wise,” I said. “But thank you!”

“All right,” he said. “Here’s the deal.”

Two stools popped up from the floor behind us. Dack Fel and I took our seats at his behest, Dack Fel looking over the stool and I checking to make sure it wasn’t sticky.

“All right, so, interested in the Thieves’ Guild,” the man said. “You have to do us a favor.”

“Sure,” Dack Fel said.

“There’s a man named Rooster,” the man said.

“Rooster?” Dack Fel and I both said.

“You must break his legs,” the man said.

“Okay,” Dack Fel said. “Why? What’d he do? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“He didn’t pay,” the man said.

“Oh,” Dack Fel said.

“So, legs. Broken,” the man said. “First one to do it wins. You get in. The other one, we’ll figure out what to do with you.”

“Okay,” Dack Fel said.

“Good luck,” the man said.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Somewhere on the docks,” the man said. “Good luck.”

“You’re not going to make me break his legs if I win, right?” Dack Fel said, gesturing at me. “Because I don’t want to lug him around.”

“So, you’d break someone else’s legs to get in the guild …?” the man said.

“I travel with this guy,” Dack Fell said.

“… but if you were in the guild and I asked you to break someone else’s legs, you’d question it?” the man said.

“He’s with me,” Dack Fel said. “I don’t want him to slow me down.”

“And neither of you are with us,” the man said.

“Hopefully yet,” Dack Fel said.

The man glared at him.

“I’ll break Rooster’s legs!” Dack Fel said. “I don’t care!”

The man fidgeted with the knife. He did not look happy.

I stood up and left. Behind me, Dack Fel was still talking.

“So, you said the docks?” he said.

“Good bye,” the man said.

Dack Fel hurried after me.

“This is more your thing,” I told him. “I think you’re gonna win, so you can go ahead and do this one.”

“I think that guy wants us to actually break the guy’s legs,” Dack Fel said. “Is this a test, maybe?”

Dack Fel suddenly turned pale and looked very ill. I stepped off, putting a little room between us as I didn’t want sick on me. I looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. We followed the signs back out to the entrance of the slums and headed to the docks from there.

“Rory,” Dack Fel said.

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t really want to break this guy’s legs,” he said.

“All right, I’ll do it,” I said. “I’ll have to buy a mace or something, I guess.”

“But … what if we make it look like his legs are broken?”

“Go ahead. You can just go ahead and do this one and I’ll take whatever they have for me next. How about that?”

“Do you think it’s a good idea?”

“No. I do not. I think walking back to that man after faking breaking that man’s legs …”

“Because tomorrow we agreed to help a cripple, and we’re about to make somebody a cripple. That seems kind of counter-productive to me.”

“Well, you can always pay to have his legs healed back up. If you feel that badly.”

“I’ve got a better idea. I’ll break his legs.”

“We need masks.”

“We could just take him somewhere else.”

“Why do you keep saying ‘we?’ Only one of us is doing this.”

“I mean, if you help me with mine, I’ll help you with yours. And vice versa.”

“That doesn’t seem like a good idea either. I’ll help you find this guy and then you break his legs and then we’ll go back and we’ll get mine. Look, we pulled some stuff in the army, right, under the table. We do it with these guys, they will murder us!”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Like that!”

“He didn’t say you couldn’t help me.”

“These are big-city thieves! These are real thieves!”

“He didn’t say ‘Hey, you go break his legs. You stay here while he goes and does it.’ He said ‘Go break his legs. Whoever does it first …’”

“But he said it was a test, a contest. Hey! Are you Rooster?”

I had picked a random man walking by on the street.

“Uh … no … what?” he asked.

“All right, thanks!” I said.

I kept walking.

Dack Fel walked up to a random man.

“Hey, do you know a guy named Rooster?” he asked.

He didn’t. We continued to ask random people about Rooster without luck. The docks were literally miles long so it would take forever to find anyone on them. There were nothing but warehouses and docks. I suggested looking for a boat named Rooster.

“How are we supposed to break a boat’s legs, Rory?” Dack Fel asked.

“No,” I said. “He’ll be a guy who said ‘I’m Rooster and my boat’s name is Rooster.’”

“Is that Halfling humor?” he asked.

“No, it’s not,” I said.

I looked down the length of the docks. It was miles.

“This could take a few days,” I muttered.

“Nobody’s heard of Rooster,” Dack Fel muttered.

“We’ve talked to, like, eight people,” I said.

“But nobody’s heard of Rooster,” he said.

Dack Fel went over to a guard. When I saw that, I wandered away. He spoke to the man for a few moments as I loitered just out of sight of the guard. He walked back over to me very obviously. As he approached, I turned and walked away.

“Rory!” I heard him yell.

I kept walking. A few people looked back towards him and I did too, acting like I didn’t know him. He eventually ran up to me.

“Human stuff, Rory,” he said insultingly as he walked beside me. “Human stuff.”

“What did you find out?” I asked.

“He just said to ask the beggars,” he said. “If you want to find somebody.”

I snapped my fingers.

“They have a guild!” I said. “Of course, they’re organized. That’s probably the best information network in the city.”

I looked around for beggars.

“I wonder if Rooster is a beggar,” I said. “We’d be doing him a favor, breaking his legs.”

“That will make me feel better about it,” he said.

We spotted two beggars and Dack Fel walked over to them. Again, I was not with him, falling back. One of the beggars played a tempo on tin cans and sang old sailor shanties. His partner shook his hat to the same beat. I got close enough to overhear the conversation. Dack Fel tossed a couple silver coins into the hat.

“Thank you, sir!” one of them said.

“Actually, I have a question for you guys, if you don’t mind,” he said.

“What’s that?” the beggar said.

“Have you heard of a guy named Rooster?” Dack Fel said.

“Nope! Don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Would another silver say you know what I’m talking about?”

“Make it two and I got something for you!”

Dack Fel tossed the man two silver coins. The other man with the hat pointed down the docks towards the military docks.

“All right,” Dack Fel said. “Can you tell me what color his hair is?”

The man kept playing.

“Not in the military district though, right?” Dack Fel said to the beggar.

The man ignored him and went back to his singing.

“Right, what’d you find out?” I asked as we walked away.

He told me they had motioned to the military district so we headed on down the docks to it. A wall stood there with a tall gate, dividing it from the rest of the docks. Guards were posted in front of the gate. I walked in as if I owned the place. One of the guards stopped me.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“You can’t go in,” he said.

“What if we want to go to the noble docks?” I asked.

“You have to go through the noble quarters,” he said.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said. “Thank you. Thank you.”

I walked away. Dack asked what I learned and I told him we couldn’t go through but would have to go through the noble quarters.

“What if he’s not in there?” Dack Fel asked. “What if he’s out here?”

“Go ask,” I said to him. “Go ask for Rooster at the gate. You’ve already made your presence quite well known here on the docks, friend.”

“Yeah, five miles back that way!” he said.

“Just go ask,” I said. “I can still see the beggars. Go on, go ask. Go on.”

“No. You go ask for Rooster.”

“No no, you’ve already announced our presence quite loudly. Go. Go go go; this is your quest. Good luck!”

“What if I want it to be your quest now?”

“It’ll be fine! It’ll be fine! Just go. Go go. You’re good. It’s all good.”

“I don’t wanna ask. Let’s put it this way, I ask a guard or a military person ‘Hey, have you seen Rooster,’ and he just gets his legs broken.”

“You already asked one!”

“I didn’t ask the guard where Rooster was.”

“Yes you did!”

“I asked him where I could find somebody know knows people.”

“Oh.”

“I’m not going to ask a guard where Rooster is. Think how suspicious that would be?”

“I’m not a fan of this quest.”

“I’m not a fan of this quest either. I don’t want to hurt anybody for no reason. You know, if we go through with this, I’m going to give him money, because I’m going to feel bad!”

“Then you should do it! Because I’m poorer than you, because you’ve got more money from the army.”

“We got the same amount of money!”

“No, you got more.”

“I got a little bit more.”

“I saw the coin. In your pockets. At night, while you were sleeping. Go ask. Just go ask. It’ll be fine! It’ll be fine!”

“No, it won’t be fine! We’ll have to hightail it out of this place forever.”

“It’ll be fine! You’ll be fine!”

“I didn’t escape my country just to never go to another country again!”

“You’re already in another country. You failed on that. Go on! Just go! It’ll be fine!”

“No. You do it.”

“All right, fine. Let’s go.”

We walked back, away from the military docks. Then we spotted another lone beggar on the side of the road.

“You want to ask him?” Dack Fel said.

“Are you going to or should I?” I asked.

“You … you’re probably better at this,” he said.

I walked over to the stinking beggar.

“Friend, what’s wrong with you?” I said to the man. “Why aren’t you working?”

“I have a bad back,” he said.

“Aw,” I said. “That’s a terrible shame.”

He pulled up his shirt and showed a large scar going up his back.

“What caused that?” I asked, dropping a silver coin in his hat. “Tell me a story.”

He told an epic tale of how he fought a boar that gored him but he survived. It was actually a very good story.

“That’s worth another coin, friend,” I said, dropping another coin. “I’m looking for somebody in town. Have you ever heard of a fella, I owe him some money, his name is Rooster?”

“You owe him money, you say?” the beggar said.

He seemed very skeptical.

“Yeah,” I said. “Not much, but I do owe him money.”

“For what?” the beggar demanded.

“He made me this loan, you see,” I said. “I was trying to buy something, but I couldn’t afford it. And Rooster had a couple coins in his pocket, and he said … well, I had to beg ‘im. He was kind of …” I sighed. “… okay, I had to do some things I didn’t wanna do. I don’t wanna talk about it too much. It was - it was a little humiliatin.’ There was a dance involved.”

The beggar laughed.

“The king of the beggars−” he said before he clapped his hands over his mouth.

“Oh, is that who Rooster is?” I said.

“I don’t know anything,” he said.

“So you don’t know him,” I said, acting as best I could that I believed his lie. “You don’t know him at all?”

“Nope.”

“All right. Damn.”

“Not at all. Not at all.”

“All right. Well, if you ever hear of a man named Rooster, tell him I got the gold that I owe him.”

“Okay.”

I walked away.

King of the Beggars, eh? I thought.

We kept moving and I pulled out my map. I found the beggar’s guildhall in the slums, as well as the thieves’ guildhall.

“Rory!” Dack Fel said as I looked at the map. “Rory!”

“What?” I said.

“Our initiation … is to break the King of the Beggars’ Guild’s legs,” he whispered. “This is kind of …”

“You should say it louder because all the beggars didn’t hear you,” I said. “Yes, I know what our initiation is. Your initiation, we already decided that.”

“But if they figure this out for me, what do you think they’re going to do with you?”

“Iunno. Maybe I’ll get to break some army man’s legs. ‘Cause I don’t like the army very much, I tell you.”

“You were in the army!”

“I know. I hated it. Let’s go look for the beggar’s guild. We’ve got to find Rooster.”

Then I raised my voice when we passed some beggars.

“Twenty gold is not a tiny sum of money that I owe the King of the Beggars,” I said loudly to Dack Fel.

We headed towards the slums, ignoring them.

“I thought it was going to be just a random guy,” Dack Fel said as we walked. “I could sneak up behind him and just go pft! You know.”

“He’s gotta live somewhere,” I said. “Just follow him home.”

“We don’t even know what he looks like!” Dack Fel said.

“We’ll find out,” I said. “That’s what we’re on our way to do!”

I found a merchant and bought a scarf I wrapped around my neck. I positioned it so I could pull it up to cover part of my face. I also bought a small, cheap bottle of perfume as well, just in case the Beggars’ Guild stank as much as those beggars before.

“Rory, I think you’re overdoing it here,” Dack Fel said.

“How will the ladies find me attractive?” I asked.

“I already find you attractive,” he said.

“Well, you are a lady,” I said. “I’ve always suspected.”

Then we headed into the slums. We followed the signs for the Beggars’ Guild and I realized we had not seen any beggars in the slums. Everyone we saw looked like they wanted to kill me. I stared back as if I wanted to kill them too. It got darker and darker.

The Beggar’s Guild was in a darker part of the slums and I looked at the map. We were not in the unknown zone, nor had we seen any way into the unknown zone. It was a little bit bigger than the Thieves’ Guild and the entrance room held a desk with three beggars sitting behind it.

“Rory, you handled that last one so well,” Dack Fel said. “Go ahead.”

I walked up but they didn’t notice me.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hello, wee-one,” one of them said.

“Hello, too-tall,” I said. “How do you apply to be a beggar?”

“Do you have money?” he asked.

“Little bit. Does it cost money to be a beggar?”

“No.”

“I thought when you didn’t have any money was when you were a beggar.”

“Exactly! Do you have a place to stay?”

“Um … I do presently but I don’t see that lasting long.”

“Well, then, you can’t be a beggar. Once you’re done and you don’t have one, you can be a beggar. And we’ll know. We always know.”

“Interesting. Where’s Rooster, I need to talk to him.”

“Who?”

“Rooster!”

“Who’s that?”

“Rooster. You know Rooster.”

“No.”

“The King of the Beggars.”

“Who is that?”

“Rooster.”

“King … what the heck is a King of the Beggars?”

“Rooster is!”

“Are you talking about an animal or a person?”

“A person.”

“A person named Rooster?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Why, that’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard,” he said to the man next to him.

“What kind of beggar king would you have, if you had a king of the beggars?” I asked.

“We don’t have a king,” he said. “You see Brandon over there?”

I looked. A moronic looking imbecile sat by the desk.

“He’s the closest to a king of the beggars,” he said.

“Brandon?” I said.

“Hello!” Brandon said stupidly.

“He’s the one that runs all of the paperwork over to the mage’s quarter to keep this place going,” the first man said. “We really don’t do much. They pretty much feed us and … we sleep here. This is my bed.”

“This desk?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“It looks very comfortable,” I admitted.

“It is very comfortable. You see that. That’s a roof. That means I don’t’ get rained on. I have a lock on the door.”

“Well, if you have a place to sleep, how can you be a beggar? Have you got money?”

“I’m not a beggar.”

“I thought this was the Beggars’ Guild?”

“It is. We just run it.”

“So, you’re a clerk?”

“Yes, I am a clerk for the Beggars’ Guild.”

“I’m very, very confused. Who gets all the money the beggars make?”

That’s when he looked confused.

“The beggars!” Dack Fel said.

“I’m sorry, sir, do I know you?” I said to him. Then to the beggar clerk: “I think you have another customer.”

“Brandon,” the man said. “Who gets the money?”

“I don’t know!” Brandon said idiotically.

“Well, don’t they bring you a cut?” I asked. “The whole point of being a beggar and having a guild is that they have to give you some of the money they make during the day.”

“No,” the clerk said.

“What’s the point of the Beggars’ Guild then?” I asked.

“Information,” he said smugly. “Information.”

“Then why isn’t it called the Information Guild?”

“Because we’re not information-ers! We’re beggars!”

“Well, I’m looking for Rooster because I owe him money. But you don’t know him? I thought you had information.”

“We do.”

“Okay, then where is he?”

“Who?”

“Rooster.”

“Is that an animal or a person?”

“Person.”

“Here, fill out this form.”

He handed me a dirty piece of paper with word “Name” on it twice, each one next to a long line.

“Have you got a quill?” I asked.

He gave me a quill and I wrote “Rooster” on each of the lines.

“That’ll be one silver!” he said.

“For what?” I said. “Writin’ down a name on a piece o’ paper?”

“You want information or not?” he said.

I took out the silver piece and held it between my fingers.

“And oi’d like the information now,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

He took the coin.

“Go tell Rooster where Rooster is!” the clerk said.

The simple-minded Brandon ran out. I ran after him, Dack Fel behind him. We chased the foolish beggar through the slums and then through another gate directly to the docks, further from the military docks then we had walked. He went to a red-headed beggar who’s hair was only on top of his head, almost like the comb of a rooster. He sat on the ground with a poncho over him. I couldn’t see his legs. Brandon said something to the man. Three other beggars were around him after Brandon left. We hid in the area nearby. They didn’t see us.

“The Beggar King,” I said to Dack Fel. “Guess who’s got no legs under there?”

Dack Fel squinted as he looked at the man.

“Go break his legs,” I said to Dack Fel.

“How do you think we should go about this?” he asked.

“How much money you got?” I asked.

“With me?” he asked.

“How much money have you got with you?”

“Two silver now.”

“Well, go get some gold and then go offer it to him if he lets you break his legs. He’s a beggar! They do terrible things for money.”

“Well, it’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message from the Thieves’ Guild.”

“Then shoot him with an arrow. I don’t know.”

“What do you do if they ask you ‘How did you break his legs?’ ‘Oh, I gave him gold for it.’ What if we make it look like an accident?”

“What’s this ‘we?’ This is your job!”

“So, I don’t know how to go about this. If it happens out in the open, other people around us, they’re going to notice …”

“Just go run up and beat him.”

“I just really don’t wanna.”

The beggars got up and walked away, Rooster standing up and walking with them. I followed at a distance.

“He has legs,” Dack Fel said. “We can do it!”

We followed them a little while.

“This sucks,” Dack Fel said. “This sucks.”

I looked around but saw several heavy things that could be used as clubs.

“There ya go,” I said. “Just grab a club. Run by, bust his legs, and run away.”

“I can kick really hard,” he said.

“Okay … if you think that’ll do it,” I said.

“It might take more than one kick,” he said.

“Then yell ‘Greetings from the Thieves’ Guild’ and run away.”

“Yeah, probably. Maybe we should talk to him. Maybe I should talk to him first. Get to know him.”

“Okay, go talk to him. ‘Cause there’s nothing better than breakin’ yer friend’s legs. Go ahead.”

He walked forward and I fell behind a little further. He went to Rooster and tapped on his shoulder. Rooster turned towards him.

“Whatta you want!?!” the beggar said.

“Hi,” Dack Fel said. “Are you a man named Rooster, maybe?”

“No!” Rooster said.

“Okay,” Dack Fel said. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I know my own name!”

“What is your name?”

“Leon!”

“Leon. I tell you what ‘Leon,’ I wanted to discuss some things with you. You see, I have this friend that apparently owes you money.”

“Nobody owes me money. Have a nice day.”

“Apparently a friend owes you money!”

Dack Fel got into the man’s face. I lost myself in the crowd so that Dack Fel wouldn’t somehow draw me into the thing. The man looked taken aback.

“If you wanna give me money, sure,” he said. “But nobody owes me money. I’m a beggar. I just ask people for money. You good? I have things to do.”

He turned and the beggars walked away. I headed after them as Dack Fel stood there, unsure what to do. I closed with the four beggars passing them, getting ahead of them, and then heading back for them. I sprinted down the dock, directly at Rooster as quickly as I could. I rushed at them and when I got close, I lowered my head and ran right at his legs.

“Get out of the way, filthy beggars!” I yelled just before impact.

I slammed into his legs with my shoulder and there was a splintering sound and a resounding snap from the man’s legs as I struck them. He fell over as I ran away. I kept on running as quickly as I could down the docks. I never looked back and ran all the way back to the slums and the Thieves’ Guild. I found the place locked up so I went back to the inn.

* * *

I later learned the man who had been in the Thieves’ Guild with the knife leapt over a log after it happened and laughed his ass off.

“That has to be the funniest thing I have seen in weeks,” he said.

He went to Rooster and told him he had some better legs for him. He took out a new pair of prosthetic legs for the beggar. Then he told Dack Fel it had been enough entertainment and we should come back to the guild the next day.

* * *

Dack Fel got back and told me what had happened.

“I’m just relieved I didn’t have to break this guy’s legs,” he said.

“You didn’t break his legs,” I said. “I broke his legs.”

“Well, we didn’t have to break his legs,” he said.

We had dinner around 7 p.m. It was roast rabbits with carrots, peas, and potatoes on the side. Very delicious. They served us clean water with it.

“So now you can pickpocket people and not worry about getting your hands cut off, Rory,” Dack Fel said. “Isn’t that great.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

Then I lowered my voice.

“There’s ears everywhere, you idiot!” I hissed. “Shut up!”

“Rory, you owe the king of beggars money,” he quipped. “What a silly excuse.”

“I figured he’d agree and take the money,” I merely said.

We were just finishing up when Arya and John Wayne returned. They looked confused.

“What’s up with you guys?” Dack Fel asked.

“I … don’t really know,” John Wayne said.

“All I know is we left, and we were outside of this house,” Arya said.

“We went to go solve a puzzle, but …” John Wayne said.

“Puzzle?” Dack Fel asked.

“This person bewitch you?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Arya said.

“No idea,” John Wayne said. “Probably.”

“I don’t remember anything,” she said. “It’s all right.”

“It was a puzzle?” I asked. “Can you go back and do it again?”

“I … don’t know,” John Wayne said.

“What?” I said.

“Well, after not remembering, I don’t think I want to go back there,” Arya said.

“How did you find out about this?” I asked.

“Shoot, we’re done eating, Rory,” Dack Fel said. “Want to go try out that puzzle box? I saw it on the board earlier.”

“I don’t know if I want my memories mixed up,” I admitted. “I’ll come with you if you want to try.”

“Yeah, I’ll try,” he said. He turned to the other two. “You’re probably going to stay here, aren’t you.”

“Uh-huh,” Arya said. “I’m going to eat.”

“We’ll be back shortly,” I said.

“All right,” Arya said.

We left the inn and went to the noble district. The address was a large, gothic house that seemed to be old and new at the same time. It stank of witchcraft. I went to the door with Dack Fel, having no intention of going into the cursed place. The butler was a large man who was goofy-looking.

“Would you like to try?” he said to us.

He looked at me.

“No!” I said. “No no!”

I started to walk away.

“Would you like some food, like tea and crackers with nutmeg?” he said.

“Tea and crackers does sound nice,” I muttered to myself.

“You can make a lot of money doing this,” Dack Fel said to me.

“No, I’m not doing it,” I said. “I’m sorry, I’m not doing it. Good luck. Win it for us. I’m having tea and crumpets or whatever this old man wants to give me.”

“Please then, come in sirs,” the butler said.

“I’ll have tea,” I said.

“That’s perfectly fine, sir,” he said.

“I won’t steal anything,” I said to him.

“That’s good sir,” he said.

We walked into the living room and I sat down. The man suddenly had a tray of tea and cookies in his hand.

“Where did you get that?” I asked as he poured the tea.

“The pebbles sir,” he said, showing me a pebble.

“Rory, see if she wants that wand?” Dack Fel said. “You should probably try to see if you can sell−”

A woman entered the room. She was old and wore dark clothing. She had her hair pulled into a tight bun.

“If you are here for the puzzle, please follow me, otherwise you can stay here,” she said. “But, the rules are as such: You get to play the game. It takes five minutes. If you fail, you forget everything about the game. If you win, you remember everything. That is it. Then you will be on your way.” She looked at me. “Please enjoy our hospitality.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said.

“I can’t believe you,” Dack Fel muttered to me.

“Enjoy coming out with half your brains,” I said back.

“I will,” Dack Fel said. “She seems nice.”

“Well, she does seem nice,” I admitted.

“You should probably try to see if she can teach you how to use the wand,” he whispered to me before following the woman into the next room.

I’ll figure it out myself, I thought.

Five minutes later, Dack Fel exited the door and then looked around, confused.

“Did you win?” I asked him.

“Did I win what?” he said.

“Iunno,” I said. “The box thing.”

He was confused.

“I guess not,” he said. “I was close. But wait … was I? I guess I’ll never know.”

“Thank you for the tea,” I said to the butler.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

I’d eaten all of the cookies.

“We’re open any time you’d like to try,” the old woman said to me.

“Thank you,” I said carefully and headed out the front door.

“Did you ask her about the wand?” Dack Fel asked once we were in the street.

“No!” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I’ll figure it out,” I said. “It’s not that hard.”

“Yeah, but it’s been months,” he said. “Days.”

“It’s been a week!” I said.

“You were scared to do the box, but at least I didn’t eat anything in the demon house,” Dack Fel said.

“Meh,” I said.

We returned to the inn about an hour after we’d left. We found Arya and John Wayne finishing their meal.

“So, how did you guys do?” John Wayne asked.

“He didn’t do very well,” I said.

“I was close, I think,” Dack Fel said.

“I had cookies,” I said. “They were buttery … and some had chocolate on them and there were these other ones that had large pieces of sugar. And the tea was all right.”

“The first thing I want to do tomorrow is get a pet,” Dack Fel said.

“A pet?” I asked.

“A pet,” he said.

“Like a rat?” I asked.

“No.”

“Cat?”

“Do I look like a rat person?”

“Kind of.”

“Dog?”

“Dogs are fine but I don’t want to worry about a dog.”

“Frog?”

“Frog, no.”

“I’m going to look for a bard, because I bet a bard would know something about these specs.”

I took out the spectacles I’d found.

“Sir sir sir,” the innkeeper said to Dack Fel. “No animals on the property. When you leave.”

“That’s fine,” Dack Fel said.

“Thank you,” the innkeeper said.

“I’ll look for a place,” Dack Fel said.

“Thank you,” the innkeeper said. “Thank you. I’m sorry, we don’t have animals upstairs. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine,” Dack Fel said.

“How did he hear?” John Wayne asked.

“This place is nicer than I would have thought if they don’t allow animals,” I said.

“I imagine the incense wouldn’t be good for animals,” Dack Fel said.

I gave him a look.

“Yeah,” he said. “Incense can kill birds.”

“They turn away druids and rangers and wizards with familiars?” I said.

“I don’t think you have to worry about a familiar pooping on the carpet,” he said.

“Well, if I had a dog, I wouldn’t worry about it either,” I said. “Oh, dogs that Halflings ride, sometimes, I hear. Not in Cheshire. We ride small horses.”

We talked about else to do that next day. Dack Fel suggested we help the man who was moving.

“I’m not very strong,” I groaned. “I can’t lift things.”

“Maybe we can go kill some rats,” he said.

“I’d like to go kill some rats,” John Wayne said.

“We should’ve killed the rats instead,” Arya said.

“I will supervise,” I said. “As you move the furniture.”

“Fine!” Dack Fel said. “Then be the motivator. I’ll get you a little megaphone.”

“A megaphone? Yes!” I said, suddenly excited. “Would you, really?”

He nodded.

“Yes yes yes!” I said.

“I’ll get it enchanted for you,” he said. “Make you louder.”

“You don’t have get it enchanted,” I said. “I’m very loud already.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.

“So, we’ll go in the morning, after breakfast?” I said. “Go and do the thing?”

“Do the thing,” Dack Fel said. “After that we can go kill some rats.”

“Kill some rats?” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s another quest that says we can go kill rats for a guy,” he said.

“They probably have all kinds of terrible diseases,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” he replied. “Wear boots.”

“I’ll have to buy some boots,” I said. “Some hip waders.”

“You don’t have boots?” he said.

“I have shoes,” I said, pointing them out.

My little boots only came up to my ankles.

I headed up the stairs for bed. I put my money in for the next day into my little box. I noticed it didn’t even clank. Then I went into my room, locked the door behind me, latched the shutters, and went quickly to sleep.

* * *

I slept in the next morning, the soft bed being so comfortable. The sun was well over the horizon before I got up, cleaned up a little, and headed down to the taproom. They had porridge with berries in it for the meal. There was honey and brown sugar and fresh milk as well. I got a big bowl and sat down with the others, who had already eaten, and dug in.

John Wayne left immediately but the other two sat with me while I ate my breakfast.

Dack Fel told me we were to report to the Thieves’ Guild that day. He noted the man didn’t give us a time so I figured I could eat first. We decided to meet later for lunch. Then Dack Fel and I went to the guild.

I found out breaking Rooster’s legs was a bit of a running gag by the Thieves’ Guild. It happened every few weeks. I also found out the beggars were the information for the Thieves’ Guild and they were run by the Thieves’ Guild. Klein, who was the man who had been in the place when we’d first come there, also told us about the guild.

“Thanks for that thing yesterday,” he told us. “I was really, really bored. Everybody is allowed into the Thieves’ Guild if you are a citizen.”

He took out a little book like the man at the main gate had.

“If you put your hand in this, it registers you with us,” he said. “We take 35 percent commission of anything you do in the slums. It is your area to practice train and hopefully not get killed. It’s a big playground for thieves. Do not kill anybody here or we will turn you in. You can settle your stuff otherwise almost as violently as you want. No maiming. No killing.”

“What about self-defense?” I asked.

“Self-defense is fine,” he said. “No problems with that. Most people just laugh at the other people anyway.”

“So, we’re only allowed to thieve in the slums?” I asked.

“In this city, yes,” he said.

“You’re not really allowed to thieve most places, Rory,” Dack Fel said to me.

“By the guild, I mean,” I said. “I don’t care about the government.”

“Yes,” Klein said.

“The guild says we can only, say, pick pockets in the slums,” I said.

“We condone it in the slums,” he said. “If you pick-pocket anything else, you still owe us. We don’t ask you where you get it from.”

“Okay,” I said. “You don’t care, though.”

“Nope,” he said.

“That’s all I need,” I said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “You need to pick-pocket in the slums.”

He winked at me.

“Right right,” I said. “Only in the slums.”

I winked back.

Dack Fel asked if he went to another town, would there be another representative he could talk to and the man said as long as he registered there, it was good, so long as they were under the Luxit Sol authority. He noted the government had its hands in a lot of things and they liked to make sure their people were prepared. As long as people had a safe outlet to do it in, it was fine.

I put my hand in the book and screamed, trying to trick Dack Fel, who didn’t respond.

“What the **** are you doing?” Klein asked.

“Well, my friend there, I was trying to trick him,” I said.

“Oh,” Klein said.

“A joke,” I went on. “It didn’t work.”

“Apparently,” he said.

“These are the Halfling jokes he’s been talking about,” Dack Fel said.

I felt rather foolish.

When Dack Fel did it, I noticed his information now noted he was part of the Thieves’ Guild.

“So, what you’re telling me know is wherever we go, they’re going to know we’re in the thieves’ guild,” Dack Fel said. “And keep an eye on us.”

“That only comes up for us and actual military documentation,” Klein said.

“That’s a relief,” Dack Fel said.

“Like if they needed to pull you up because you did something wrong, they would know you’re with us,” Klein said. “And they would come asking us.”

“And which you would say …?” Dack Fel said. “You would reprimand us, right?”

“Oh yeah, you would be found, depending on what you did,” Klein said.

“Shouldn’t get caught,” I said.

“I don’t plan on doing anything really bad, so …” Dack Fel said.

“I don’t plan on getting caught,” I said.

“We should go practice and see how much we can steal today,” Dack Fel said.

“Well, it’s almost lunchtime,” I replied. “We should go back and meet the others.”

Klein told us more about the guild and when I asked if we were to bring the 35 percent to the guild hall, he told us there was another way.

“Whatever you take, you cut, you take, you pebble,” he said. “You give to the beggars and you’ll get it back.”

“Wait,” I said. “What?”

“Whatever you cut and take you pebble and drop to the beggars and get out,” he said again.

“Pebble?” I said. “What do you mean ‘pebble?’”

“You give it to−” Dack Fel started to say.

“You touch the pebble to whatever you have,” Klein said. “And give it to the beggars.”

“Oh, the pebble to the beggar?” I asked.

“Give … you’ll see,” he said.

“All right,” I said.

“You’ll see,” he said.

“All right,” I said. “We give the guild everything and they give us back or do we just give you your cut.”

“Everything,” he said.

“Give everything and you’ll give us our cut?” I said.

“Pebble it and drop it to the beggar,” he said.

There was that word again. Pebble. I had no idea what he meant by that.

“Okay,” I said, very confused.

“And if you don’t, they’ll know,” Dack Fel told me like he knew what the man was talking about.

“Pebble it,” Klein said.

“Rory,” Dack Fel said.

“I don’t know what the hell pebbling it is!” I said.

“I’ll show you,” Dack Fel said.

“Touch the pebble to the bag you stole,” Klein said.

“All right,” I said. “I touch the pebble to the bag I stole?”

“Yeah,” Klein said.

“And then give the pebble to the beggars?” I said.

“Touch the pebble to the bag and then give it to the beggars,” Klein said again.

“Give the pebble to the beggars,” Dack Fel said.

“Give the pebble to the beggars?” I said.

“No,” Klein said.

“Give the bag to the beggars?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Oh,” Dack Fel said. “I was kind of lost too.”

“And then, see!” I said, pointing to Dack Fel. “See. It’s not just me.”

“Pebble the bag and then give it to the beggars,” Klein said again.

“Oh, the pebble registers what’s in the bag?” Dack Fel said.

“Yeah!” Klein said.

“Oh!” Dack Fel said. “Okay.”

“Pebble the bag and give it to the beggars,” Klein said again.

“And then what happens?” I asked.

“You’ll get your cut,” he said. “It’ll show up. Trust us.”

“Okay,” I said. “I just didn’t understand. I’m sorry.”

“I trust you,” Dack Fel said.

“Gods, we’re thieves, we know everything!” Klein said. “What do you think?”

“You’re asking us to trust thieves,” Dack Fel said. “That’s funny.”

We all had a good laugh about that. Then he gave us each a magical pebble. How bizarre.

Dack Fel and I headed back to the inn, Dack Fel going off on his own and meeting me there a few minutes later. Arya and John Wayne were also there and we all had lunch.

“They sent me 65 percent of a rat,” Dack Fel whispered to us.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“I pebbled a rat,” he said. “It turned into cheese.”

“It turned into cheese?” I said.

“They kept 35 percent of that rat.”

“Oh. It’s magic. I didn’t get that. That’s very … that’s an interesting system.”

“I didn’t think they would take the rat. What are they going to do?”

“I don’t know. I guess it depends on how good of a sense of humor Klein has.”

“I think we can only get away with that once, though.”

“I think I’ll get away with it not at all. What happens if you do that to a person?”

“I don’t …”

“Go out on the street and see what happens!”

“What would it turn ‘em into?”

He suggested it wouldn’t work on people.

“Babies?” I said.

“Babies?” Dack Fel said. “I think they’re still considered people.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we’ll find out if we’re ever in prison. Touch ourselves and see what happens.”

“That’s the perfect way to get out of jail,” he said.

“I heard you ran into somebody’s legs,” Arya said to me. “Who does that?”

“Well, I was getting fed up with that stupid quest,” I told her.

“So you decided to take somebody’s leg out?” she said.

“Yes!” I replied.

“With your head?”

“Well, he wasn’t doin’ anything,” I pointed at Dack Fel. “So I said ‘Screw it. He can have the next one.’”

“I was having a moral dilemma about breaking some guy’s legs,” Dack Fel said.

“Well I didn’t figure if they were real legs …” I said. “All right. If they were real legs, they wouldn’t have broke like that.”

“You didn’t know they were real legs!” Dack Fel said.

“You would have broken them!” Arya said.

“No, just would have knocked him down,” I said. “He would have been fine.”

“Get away from me,” she said.

“It’s because I’m lonely,” I said. “I need some companionship.”

“Well, you’re not going to find it here,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1956-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Two-Thieves-in-the-Big-City
Superworld: The Visitor http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1955-Superworld-The-Visitor Sun, 25 Oct 2015 23:23:58 GMT Tuesday, October 20, 2015 (After playing the original *Superworld* scenario “The Visitor” Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Katie Gallant and... Tuesday, October 20, 2015

(After playing the original Superworld scenario “The Visitor” Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Katie Gallant and James Brown.)

She had a name that was impossible to pronounce by humans and most humanoids. Her skin was green and she was quite beautiful with purple eyes speckled like a galaxy of stars. She was also dangerous, a bounty hunter by trade, and fairly good at her job. Her race was part of loose federation of planets under control of the lone planet that owned them all: Betelgeuse.

After travelling through hyperspace for what felt like a very long time, she found herself in orbit around a pretty little blue-green planet the computer identified as “Earth.” The humans there had an interesting culture, she’d found as she’d approached the planet. She’s spent the last few months of her voyage picking up televised signals of a fascinating culture, called by the titles “Bonanza” or “Gunsmoke” or “Maverick.” She had even fashioned a second weapon to supplement her first based on the weaponry she saw in the televised videos. It had also helped her chose a name to use on the planet: Mustang Rogers.

Her travelling companion for the entire journey had been the Heuristically Enabled Robotic Basic Intelligence Engine - H.E.R.B.I.E. for short. The annoying artificial intelligence and computer of her spacecraft, a Freefall-Class Betelgeusan Scout, had kept her company and helped run the ship for her.

She sat at the pilot’s station in the cockpit and looked at the world through the viewport. She had H.E.R.B.I.E. scan the atmosphere and learned it was Betelgeusan normal, which would mean she’d have to wear her mask or eventually suffer. He didn’t pick up any Betelgeusan distress signals or any Betelgeusan signals of any kind.

“Hey! There’s a signal coming from down on the surface of the planet!” H.E.R.B.I.E. spoke in a terribly upbeat voice, as he had the entire trip.

Logistical information appeared on the forward viewport. It pinpointed a certain part of one of the continents on the world north of a peninsula jutting out into the ocean. The view of the planet below was suddenly magnified on the viewport, showing lights strung together in the spot.

“Yeah, there’s a city there!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said. “It’s an extra-terrestrial signal but I can’t pinpoint the location. Just to that area.”

“Okay,” Mustang said.

“How are you doing?” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

“H.E.R.B.I.E., do you detect the signal of the guy we’re looking for?” Mustang asked.

“Iunno,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said in a way that made her think he’d just shrugged. “There’s no Betelgeusan signals, no.”

“Okay.”

“But it’s an alien signal.”

“H.E.R.B.I.E. are there hostiles?”

“Iunno.”

“You don’t know. Okay, let’s take her down for a closer look.”

“Okay! Let’s go!”

The logistics vanished from the forward viewport and the ship dropped out of orbit. H.E.R.B.I.E. informed her their deflector screens would make the ship invisible to the primitive radar and detecting devices used on the planet. They flew down as he scanned for a place to land. He eventually found a large abandoned structure some distance from the city. He said he could land the ship next to it and, as they got closer, he noted it was an airfield or spacefield of some kind.

He landed the ship on the broken concrete of a runway near the hanger standing there. It looked like the place had not been used in a very long time. Mustang Rogers exited the ship via one of the clamshell cargo bay doors and opened up the hanger doors. The ship maneuvered into the hanger, landing gear still deployed, and put down as she closed the doors behind it.

“I’m doing it!” H.E.R.B.I.E.’s voice came through her communicator. “Yeah!”

“Quit talking like that, pilgrim,” she said in imitation of how the earth people talked according to several “move-ees” she’d seen while trying to assimilate Earth culture and language.

“Sorry!” the computer said good-naturedly. “Sorry! How do you … do you want me to change my personality programming?”

“Yes,” she said.

“There are some other choices,” he said hopefully.

“What are the other choices?”

“Let’s see …”

“Do you have one that doesn’t talk unless information is absolutely vital?”

“Aw … yes.”

“All right. You can stay you for now.”

“YEA! Oh! I’m sorry! I won’t talk! After this! Not anymore! Right after I say this, I won’t talk!”

“Okay, H.E.R.B.I.E., okay!

She drove the armored transport out of one of the cargo holds, connecting H.E.R.B.I.E. to it wirelessly. She headed towards the city and quickly learned how to drive on the roads. She told H.E.R.B.I.E. to continue scanning for the signal they’d found. In the meantime, she looked for a saloon, as the locals called it in their vernacular. The two soon established the city was called Charlotte in the state of North Carolina in the United States of America.

She found a saloon after a short while. The neon lights over the front door labeled it “Bobby’s Jim-Bob’s.” She parked in the front among other, unarmored vehicles, and went in to try to talk to people and learn what she could. She asked people if any strangers had passed through lately but the responses she got were questions as to whether she was one of the superheroes.

“You an exotic?” one man asked.

“What’s your name?” another asked.

“My name is Mustang Rogers,” she told them.

“Mustang Rogers?” a man said.

“What do y’do?” another asked.

“None of your business what I do,” she said.

“Maybe she’s a super villain,” another man said.

“She’s too purty for a super villain!” yet another man said.

* * *

Late on Tuesday, October 28, 2014, Shadow Knight was on patrol in Charlotte, on the west side of town. He had investigated what he could about the terrible Doctor Murder incident from the month before but found out nothing. He was running around town with his super speed when he spotted an unusual vehicle in front of a bar called “Bobby’s Jim-Bob’s.” It looked kind of like a hummwv but was unlike any he’d ever seen before. It was more rugged and appeared to be armored. A strange glow came from inside the vehicle.

A couple of rough-looking young men were looking at the vehicle and at the front of the bar.

Shadow Knight ran up the side of the bar to the flat roof where he could watch the two men without being seen. They were talking about whether they should try to jack the car. One of them reached into his jacket and pulled out a long, flat piece of metal: a Slim Jim. He looked around. Though there were several cars in the parking lot, no one was around. The other man watched the door of the bar.

The man was still struggling to insert the Slim Jim when the driver’s side window rolled down. He jerked back.

“Hey!” someone inside said. “You better get the hell away from here or you’re gonna be atomized like a son of a *****!”

The man looked frightened and stepped back from the vehicle as the window slid shut again.

“There’s a head in there!” he said. “A freakin’ head! It’s like a floating head!”

The man who’d been watching the door walked over to him.

“What are you talking about?” he said.

They conferred quietly. The man told his friend there was a floating head in the car and it had just told him to back off. The other man picked up a rock from the gravel parking lot. He walked to the car and raised his arm. He brought the rock down but the driver’s side window opened in a flash. His arm went into the now-open window and he was suddenly dragged, screaming, into the vehicle. The window went back up and the car shook violently. Then, the window on the passenger side opened and he was flung out, crashing to the parking lot ground, beaten up.

He climbed to his feet and ran away as fast as he could, followed by his friend.

Shadow Knight left the roof and went to the vehicle, which was parked across two spots. He tried to look through the windows but they were tinted. That, strangely, included the windshield. A strange glow came from front seat somewhere. The heavy vehicle was unlike anything he’d ever seen before.

* * *

Mustang Rogers’ communicator beeped. She looked at it and saw there was a communiqué there from H.E.R.B.I.E. Someone had tried to break into the vehicle but he’d taken care of it. She headed out of the bar, drawing Lola, her handmade pistol, as she went.

* * *

The door of the bar flew open and a green-skinned woman stomped out. She wore a strange mask over her nose and mouth and a cowboy hat. She had a corset under her jacket and chaps. A pistol was in her hand while another, more futuristic handgun of some kind, was in one of the two holsters on her belt. She was definitely an exotic. She glanced at the armored Shadow Knight. Then she walked over to the vehicle.

“H.E.R.B.I.E., what happened?” she said to it.

Her communicator beeped and went to speaker.

“There were a couple guys out here, trying to steal it!” H.E.R.B.I.E.’s voice came through. “No problem! I took care of ‘em!”

“At least you’re good for something,” she said.

“I’m good for a lot of things,” the A.I. replied.

“Good thing I didn’t turn off your personality.”

“Yeah! It’s a great thing!”

“All right, hold down the fort.”

She walked over to Shadow Knight, her gun still in her hand.

“Okay, there, wise guy,” she said. “What’s the big idea?”

He looked at her.

“What’s your business here, pilgrim?” she asked, waving the gun around.

He stared at her a moment and then looked at the vehicle.

Shadow Knight wore tight, black armor and a helmet completely covering his head. He had two swords at his sides: one looked rather strange while the other glowed red. The armor and helmet looked aerodynamic. All she could make out of his was his glowing blue eyes gleaming from inside the helmet.

He continued to stare at her.

“What’s the matter?” she said. “You can’t hear?”

“Is that your car?” he asked, his voice deep and reverberating.

“My what?” she said.

“Is that your car?” he asked again. “What was that?”

“My what?”

“How did your car do that?”

“Again, what is this ‘car’ you speak of?”

Shadow Knight pointed at her vehicle.

“Oh,” she said. “That belongs to me. Did … uh … what of it?”

“Well, some guys were trying to break in,” he said.

“Where’d they go?” she asked. “I don’t see anyone out here but you, pilgrim.”

“They ran off,” he said.

“Convenient. What are you doing out here, interested in my ‘car?’”

“It’s very different.”

“What does your … ‘car’ … look like?”

“Normal.”

“Are you a sheriff ‘round these parts?”

“Are you new here?”

“Yes. Just passing through. I don’t mean any trouble.”

“No, but I help the law around here.”

“Oh. Well then, maybe you can help me. I’m looking for somebody.”

“Who?”

“Name’s Mustang Rogers and I’m looking for Drek Delzueb.”

“Drek Delzueb.”

“That’s the one. Have you heard of this fellow?”

“I have not. What’d he do?”

“You haven’t heard of him? Do you know where I might find information on … strangers in these parts?”

“Has he done something wrong?”

“You leave that to me. I just want to ask him some questions. He … uh … we have some mutual friends and … they miss him and would like to see him.”

Shadow Knight spotted about a dozen men walk into the parking lot out of the dark. They appeared to be gang members and all of them wore the same colors: red and black. They looked young, as if they were in high school or about that age, and they were armed with baseball bats, lead pipes, and knives. Shadow Knight recognized the one who’d been beaten up by Mustang Rogers’ vehicle.

“There!” the young man yelled. “That’s the son of a ***** car!”

He pointed at the vehicle and they all moved towards it, trying to avoid the two heroes. Some of them wobbled as if they had been drinking.

“C’mon boys, lets deal with this!” he said. “Stupid car!”

Mustang Rogers spun around and drew Veronica, her futuristic-looking pistol. Then she turned to Shadow Knight.

“Hey, pilgrim, care to … rumble with these no-good, do-badders?” she said.

English was obviously not her first language.

The group was mostly comprised of black and Hispanic youths. The lone white guy was the one who’d gotten sucked into the car and beaten up. Shadow Knight was visibly confused as to what was going on. Mustang Rogers moved closer to the youths.

“Are you the ones that messed with my … ‘car?’” she asked.

Shadow Knight also approached the men.

What is happening? he thought.

The men took notice of the two heroes for the first time.

“Yeah,” one of the Latinos said. “Is that your car!?! Is that your car!?! Your car beat up our friend!”

“Then your friend was a pussy!” Mustang Rogers said.

“What?” the Latino said. “What!?! What did you call him!?! Why don’t you put down your guns and fight like a man!”

“Fair enough,” she said, holstering her pistols.

“We can take these jerks!” the young man said to his allies. “They’re just dumb exotics!”

“Put up your dukes!” she said.

“Yeah! C’mon!” someone cried. “Let’s do this!”

Shadow Knight concentrated and used his super touch to get a better feel for a couple of the guys. He felt bulges under their jackets that were probably pistols.

One of the young men rushed at Mustang Rogers and she swung at him but missed as he leaned back. The man laughed but she swung at him again, this time connecting with an uppercut. He stumbled back but was obviously not badly hurt.

“That all you got?” he said.

He swung at her but she easily ducked aside. The other men moved in to watch the fight more closely, most of them shouting encouragement to their friends. The white guy hung back and then gestured to two of them and pointed at Mustang Rogers’ vehicle. They nodded and headed for it. She noticed. She reached down and touched her communicator.

“H.E.R.B.I.E., back up!” she said.

She struck the man in the face again. He stumbled back but didn’t fall. She was obviously not putting her all into it and appeared to be enjoying the fight. Then the strange vehicle roared to life. The engine sounded odd, merely humming loudly. Then it backed up.

“Shit!” one of the men in the way yelled as he stumbled aside.

“I didn’t know anybody was in there!” another screamed, scrambling away.

The vehicle backed up and then the engine started gunning.

“Sona***** there’s somebody in there!” somebody yelled.

The man Mustang Rogers faced swung at her again but missed once more.

“I told you, it’s haunted!” the white guy yelled. “It’s a haunted car!”

Some of the gang members headed towards the vehicle.

Shadow Knight, arms crossed, had been observing. He suddenly moved incredibly quickly, rushing two of the men, and then swung at them, missing the first but hitting the second, barely clipping him in the back of the head.

“You fight like a girl!” Mustang Rogers said to him with a laugh.

She swung away at the man again but he ducked to one side. Then Shadow Knight swung at two of them very quickly but missed both. Mustang Rogers laughed again. He continued swinging and missing, despite his speed. Mustang Rogers struck the man she fought a solid blow right in the face, breaking his nose. He fell to the ground, unconscious. Shadow Knight tore into the two men he fought, hitting one with his elbow. Down he went. He merely struck a glancing blow on the other.

“It’s super humans!” someone yelled. “Git ‘em!”

“We can take ‘em!” another yelled.

Several of the youths closed with both of them. One of them hit Mustang Rogers and screamed in pain as his fist met her steel-tough skin. The others were ineffective. The ones who fought Shadow Knight completely missed him. Mustang Rogers punched one of the men in the crotch and he screamed profanities at her. Shadow Knight swung at one of the thugs but missed, continuing the blow through to the man next to him. The man screamed as he fell to the ground, unconscious.

One of the men picked up his baseball back and brought it down on his her head. The bat broke in half though it did crush her cowboy hat. He looked at the hat in dismay.

“He’s got armor!” one of the ones fighting Shadow Knight called. “Use the guns!”

The men around him each drew a pistol. They opened fire on the man, the guns pop-popping, but Shadow Knight was faster and moved around at such a speed he was not struck by any of the bullets. One of the bullets actually went through his black after-image. That gave the thugs pause.

Shadow Knight swung away but the youths, now powered by fear, leapt away, trying to get clear of the man’s amazingly fast fists. Mustang Rogers drew Veronica, her futuristic-looking handgun. She aimed at one of the men who had a pistol and pulled the trigger. The gun gave a “pft” sound, almost like a paintball gun, but an orange beam of light burst from the weapon and struck one of the thugs, burning through his clothing and striking him in the side. The man fell to the ground with barely a grunt.

Shadow Knight slammed another thug, who went down with a cry, his gun flying out of his hand. Mustang Rogers turned to the man who’d hit her with the baseball bat. He had a Charlotte Knights baseball hat but the word “Knights” had been marked out and the word “Devils” had been written over it. She pistol whipped him with Veronica but only struck him a glancing blow. Shadow Knight, meanwhile, kicked at one of the men, landed and did a plant, and then did a spin kick, which also missed. It looked like has threatening the man.

The gang members turned and fled in terror, some running back into the field nearby while others ran recklessly into the road. Shadow Knight looked the smoking man on the gravel.

“I think this guy needs to go to a hospital,” Shadow Knight said.

Then he ran off towards one fleeing thug and struck the man.

“AH! Leave me alone!” he shrieked.

Mustang Rogers touched her communicator and called for H.E.R.B.I.E. to bring the car over. She ran for the driver side door, which opened for her. She saw the one who had started it all running behind the building.

Shadow Knight rushed the fleeing man and beat him down. He went after another man and beat him with a single blow as well. Mustang Rogers’ vehicle roared around the side of the bar towards the back where she flung the car door, trying to hit the man who was fleeing back there. She missed with the door and he continued to run away.

“Leave me alone, lady!” he screamed.

Out front, Shadow Knight rushed another man and swung at him but missed. He shrieked and ran into the darkness. Shadow Knight effortless followed him and beat him down. He ran to another man, who yelled profanities at him. Then he beat him down as well.

Behind the bar, Mustang Rogers drew Lola, which looked like a .45 revolver, and aimed at the man, who continued to run away. She fired, the gun making a crack like a regular pistol. The rubber bullet missed the man, going high. He jerked down as the gunshot rang out and fled for the far corner. She fired again and the bullet bounced off the side of the building with a thud. Then he fled around the building.

She pulled the vehicle door shut and drove after the man again. When she pulled around the building, she found his still running, again towards the corner of the building. She aimed out of the window.

Lola, don’t let me down, she thought.

She shot the man, striking him in the back. The bullet was merely a rubber-type of material meant to shock and stun. However, when it struck, it also excreted a toxin causing paralysis in all known life forms once it touched the skin. The man fell to the ground and didn’t move. She knew he’d be fine.

Shadow Knight used his burner cell phone to call for an ambulance. Mustang Rogers drove over to him.

“This guy needs to go to a hospital,” Shadow Knight said.

“What is a hospital?” she asked.

“He needs medical attention.”

“All right,” she said. “Well, where is this ... let me see what I can do.”

She examined the man but was unable to help him. Shadow Knight also set about trying to help the unconscious and badly burned man but was unable. He made sure to call the police, telling them there were gang members knocked out at Bobby’s Jim-Bob’s.

“What’s goin’ on out here?” someone said.

A few people had wandered out of the bar.

“First, what’s your name, pilgrim?” Mustang Rogers said to Shadow Knight.

“I’m Shadow Knight,” he said, his voice deep.

“All right, Shadow Knight, this is your territory, what do we do?” she said.

“I’ve already alerted the authorities,” he said.

They heard sirens in the far distance.

“Does that mean I need to run?” she asked.

“Probably not,” he said. “You haven’t done anything.”

“Cool,” she said.

“You did shoot this guy but … he had a gun,” he said.

“Well, you seem like a capable fella. Can I pay you to take me around these parts?”

“I can just show you around. You don’t have to pay me. So, where are you from?”

“Uh … not from around these parts, pilgrim.”

“Fair enough.”

“What do we need to do with these guys?”

“Once we clear this up, I can show you around. I haven’t been here too long myself, though.”

“You’re too kind. Much obliged.”

“Is the person you’re looking for … do they reside here?”

“That’s what I aim to find out, pilgrim.”

“Are you from the old west?”

“Old?”

An ambulance roared into the parking lot, followed by a police car. The officers were a bit confused about Shadow Knight at first but one of them noted he was with Arclight and Friends.

“Is it Arclight and Friends or is it Arclight and the Outliers?” one of the officers said.

“I don’t ****ing know!” the other replied.

The officer asked what was going on as he called for more backup. They explained. Shadow Knight had gathered the men who had fled he’d knocked out. The police took statements from each of the exotics. There were a lot of eyes on Mustang Rogers, who was very attractive.

“Is this another exotic?” one of the officers asked Shadow Knight. “I mean, she looks it.”

“Seems so,” he replied.

“Okay, what’s your, like, code name, or whatever?” one of the officers asked her.

“Names Rogers,” she said.

“Rogers?” he asked. “Like Buck Rogers?”

“Mustang Rogers,” he said.

They seemed frustrated at another exotic in Charlotte and noted she was armed and asked if she flew. When she said she didn’t, the officer asked what her super powers were, saying the chief would want to know. They told her they knew Shadow Knight because he was in jail.

“It was a misunderstanding,” Shadow Knight said.

“Yeah, I know,” the officer replied. “That’s what I was told by Agnes.”

They questioned her further, asking about her powers and what happened. She noted she was just passing through. A paddy wagon arrived and took all of the thugs away. The two men who’d been shot were taken to the hospital. According to the police, the gang they were with was called the Devils, who worked on that side of town, focusing on car theft and drugs. They told her they’d give the chief her name and she noted she was not there to cause any trouble.

“Well, the Devils are a bunch of little *****es on this side of town,” the police officer said.

He warned them there were more of the Devils so they should watch their backs.

“That’s that lady I talked to!” someone yelled from the front porch of the bar. “She’s so purty!”

The police and the ambulance left the scene by around 10 p.m.

“You know where we can get some refreshments?” Mustang Rogers said. “Any firewater ‘round these parts?”

He looked at her a moment and then pointed at the bar.

“Well what’re we waiting for?” she said.

The other patrons had gone back inside and the two exotics followed. As they entered, Mustang Rogers’ vehicle moved into one of the parking places.

The entire bar had a western theme. Sawdust was on the floor and in the corner was a mechanical bull though no one was using it. Another corner had a low stage that was presently empty. A juke box stood in yet another corner and country music blared over the speakers. A space was cleared on one side for dancing - line dancing seemed very popular. A bar ran the length of the place while numerous small tables and chairs were scattered in the main part of the room. The bartender was a large man with a handlebar mustache. He wore jeans with suspenders and a flannel shirt. Two younger male bartenders wore jeans as well. One had a flannel shirt and the other wore a t-shirt with the name George Strait on it.

Mustang Rogers walked up to the bar and sat down on one of the stools.

“Yeah, can I help you, miss?” he said, his accent very southern. “You took care of them Diablos, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Good!” he said. “Here. Here’s one on the house.”

He drew her a beer from a tap marked Pabst Blue Ribbon and put the frosted mug on the counter before her. She raised her mask and drank the beer down in a few gulps.

“We don’t get many exotics around here,” the bartender said. “Where y’from?”

She looked at him.

“Everyone here seems full of questions,” she said.

“I’m just making conversation,” he said.

He headed off to help other patrons. She turned to Shadow Knight.

“Do they have any Grulspar around these parts?” she asked.

“Grulspar?” he replied. “I have never heard of that.”

“It’s just as well,” she said. “I shouldn’t be partaking of it.”

“Hey!” the bartender said to Shadow Knight, coming back over. “You helped out, out there? Here y’go boy.”

He drew another PBR for the man.

“Thank you,” Shadow Knight said.

“What’s your names?” the bartender asked. “You’re exotics. Who are you? What’s your names?”

“I’m the Shadow Knight,” the man replied.

“All right,” the bartender said. He turned to the woman. “What you called?”

“Mustang Rogers,” she said.

“That’s a good name,” the bartender replied in all seriousness.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she said.

Shadow Knight looked at the beer. It was very thin and light-colored. He guessed it was the Pabst Blue Ribbon though he hadn’t paid much attention to which lever the bartender had pulled, meaning it was either that, Bud Light, or Coors Light. He picked up the glass and part of the helmet turned to smoke and became immaterial. He sipped at the beer. It was Pabst Blue Ribbon. It wasn’t good, German beer and was quite weak, but it wasn’t terrible. He wouldn’t order another one but it was free so it wouldn’t go to waste.

“Is … gurlshplarg … is that stronger than normal beers?” Shadow Knight asked her.

“It’s the strongest thing this side of the Mississippi,” she said.

“Interesting,” he replied.

He muffled his laughter with his helmet.

“Do you have any sort of … uh … bulletin for wanted individuals and/or a place where … they take … incapacitated individuals?” she asked.

“The hospital?” he said.

“Sure …”

She was still unsure what the word meant.

“I’m looking to see if the person I’m looking for is out of commission somewhere,” she said. “Being treated medically.”

“If he’s being treated medically, he’d be at a hospital,” Shadow Knight said.

“Where is this hospital?” she said.

“There’s a lot of hospitals,” he said.

“That makes my job damned hard.”

“But as for a bulletin board for wanted individuals, the internet is a good way to go about looking for them.”

“Where is this internet? Where do we go? How do we get to it?”

“It’s on a computer.”

“You have a computer?”

“I could show you around town and … where you could find the stuff on the internet. And the various hospitals. I don’t think your car can go as fast as me, though.”

“Why, you got a real fast horse or something?”

“I’m the fastest man in the city.”

A man at the bar next to her, obviously very drunk, leaned into their conversation.

“Yeah, how fast are you?” he muttered.

Then he laid his head down on his bar and closed his eyes.

“I haven’t clocked it myself but … almost 900,” he said.

“Nine hundred …?” she said.

“Kilometers per hour,” he said.

She did not know what a kilometer was. She guessed it might be the equivalent of a foot.

“I dunno,” she said. “My car can go pretty fast. Car to race?”

“Any time,” he said.

“Right now?” she said.

“Let’s go,” he said.

They left the bar and returned to her vehicle. They found an abandoned road and Shadow Knight easily outran her vehicle.

“We gotta make some changes around here,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said to her from the holographic robot head floating near the dashboard of the vehicle. “Maybe add some stuff to this vehicle. Yeah.”

“What’d I tell you about talking, H.E.R.B.I.E.?” she said.

“Sorry,” he replied.

A holographic tear rolled down his cheek.

“I’ll make some modifications,” he said. “Hey! Let’s race him with the ship!”

“Care to try again, pilgrim?” she asked Shadow Knight.

“Where?” he said.

“I know a place,” she said. “Get in.”

He got in and she drove to the abandoned airport where she had first touched down. The abandoned hanger stood on one side, a collapsed tower not far from it. The pavement was rutted and grass grew through it. It looked like the place had been abandoned for years. She got out of the vehicle and opened the hanger door to reveal what appeared to be a spacecraft within. Some kind of alien script was written on the outside of the ship as well.

Mustang Rogers drove her vehicle to the back of the ship and, as she approached, a clamshell door opened up and a ramp rolled down. She drove her vehicle into the cargo bay. H.E.R.B.I.E.’s face vanished as he disconnected from the vehicle. The clamshell door closed behind them.

“Yeah, there’s a few planes I can’t outrun, so I’m going to assume this is one of those,” Shadow Knight said as he exited the ground vehicle.

H.E.R.B.I.E.’s face appeared on a nearby monitor.

“Giving up so easy, huh!?!” he said.

“Dang it, H.E.R.B.I.E.!” Mustang Rogers said.

“I’m assuming you’re some sort of alien?” Shadow Knight said.

“Just ignore him,” she said.

“Just ignore me!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said. “But you’ve given up, right?”

He laughed loudly.

“Volume down 80 percent!” Mustang Rogers said.

The sound of the laughter dropped significantly and they could barely hear him.

“We won!” he said, just in range of hearing. “We won!”

Holographic confetti fell around his head as it bounced around the screen.

“So, would you like to see my computer and show me this … internet?” she said.

“Wait, I’m your computer!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

They barely heard him.

“Do you have WiFi?” Shadow Knight said.

“Up 10 percent!” Mustang Rogers said to the computer. “What’d you say?”

“I’m your computer, right?” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

“H.E.R.B.I.E. pull up the screen-thing,” she said.

She fiddled with the computer until she found “WiFi Networks available.” There was a really large list of millions upon millions of them

“What does this mean?” she asked.

“Just click on one without a lock,” Shadow Knight said.

“Hey! Where are we near?” H.E.R.B.I.E. asked. “Are we near Moscow?”

“No,” Shadow Knight said.

“Damn it,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said. “Hold on. Wait. What? Okay - localizing.”

The list narrowed down considerably.

“I say we try one with a lock,” H.E.R.B.I.E.’s voice said. “C’mon!”

“Go ahead H.E.R.B.I.E.,” she said. “Give it a whirl.”

“There’s one called ‘Pentagon,’” H.E.R.B.I.E. said. “But that’s not local.”

He rattled off a list of local signals.

“H.E.R.B.I.E.! Just pick on!” Mustang Rogers said.

“Fine,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

He connected and Shadow Knight found they had internet access. Google came up.

“This is apparently the one that everybody uses as their thing,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said. “There’s another one. It’s called Bing. But people seem to hate it.”

Shadow Knight walked her through using the internet. It was not terribly complicated. They looked for wanted posters and the like and found a police database and FBI database of wanted people. They looked for a little while but there was no sign of him. She figured she could look more later. When she put in “Drek Delzueb,” nothing came up.

“I’m getting jittery!” she said.

“Should … should I get you some grulspar?” H.E.R.B.I.E. asked.

“Yes, please, H.E.R.B.I.E., it’s the first thing you’ve said that made sense all day,” she said.

“I always make sense!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

“All right, H.E.R.B.I.E., you did good running over those guys,” she admitted.

“Okay, it’s in the dining area,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

“Thank you,” she said.

She led Shadow Knight through a door to a hallway that led to a small booth with a table. There was a tall glass of a light brown liquid there. She drank it down and got another out of the small closed shelf next to the table. She took her mask off and dropped it on the table as well. Luckily, Shadow Knight did not need to breathe.

“So that’s the … glurspar?” Shadow Knight said.

“Would you like some?” she asked.

“I’ll …” he said.

He sniffed at the glass she offered him. The strange smell of the room made it hard to smell the stuff but he thought it smelled like chocolate milk.

“I can run a scan on it,” she said. “If you’d like, H.E.R.B.I.E. can run a scan on your physiology.”

She looked at him.

“Give it a try and let me know if you have anything like it,” she said.

He tasted a little of it. It was chocolate milk. He drank the rest of it and it was delicious.

“Yeah! I’ll scan him!” H.E.R.B.I.E. suddenly said.

A deep humming began. It was loud and lasted about 30 seconds.

“Okay!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said after it stopped.

He talked about Shadow Knight’s physiology and powers, noting the man was super strong, super fast, and very durable to kinetic things all through his armor, which came from his swords. The very last thing H.E.R.B.I.E. said was the grulspar shouldn’t hurt him.

“Grulspar is not toxic for this species,” he said.

“You know this beverage?” she asked.

Shadow Knight felt a little nauseous after that.

“I apologize,” Mustang Rogers said. “The scanning process can be a little … much.”

“Can I scan him again?” H.E.R.B.I.E. asked.

“No, H.E.R.B.I.E.,” she said.

“Okay,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

“Yeah, this is just chocolate milk,” Shadow Knight said in his own voice.

Mustang Rogers laughed and touched his hand.

“When did you get here?” she asked.

“Oh, this is my actual voice,” he said.

“Tell me, what … do you do in this world?” she said. “What’s your occupation?”

“Vell, I am … I do certain wetwork for … for government,” he said. “But at ze moment, I’m just trying to make ze city a safer place for my daughter.”

“How old is your daughter?”

“She vill be 10 November 20.”

“Okay, well. Is there a place you meet? ‘Cause, I’ll be honest, I’m not going to be much more use tonight.”

“What do you mean ‘place to meet?’ You want to meet again tomorrow?”

“Yes, I’d like to continue searching for the person I’m searching for if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, if he’s a menace, then I would like him out of Charlotte as well.”

“I would like to get him out of Charlotte … so, we have similar goals.”

“If you need to know, it is the city we are in currently.”

“This place here? Yes, I’d like to get him out of your way. Trust me, you don’t want him here.”

“How would I be able to contact you?”

With a little help from H.E.R.B.I.E., they connected to AT&T, which was the WiFi signal he’d connected to, and connected her communicator to it, giving her a cell phone number and everything.

“Do you have a communicator?” H.E.R.B.I.E. asked.

“Yes, if your scanner did not damage it,” Shadow Knight said.

“Well, then, pull it out!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

Shadow Knight took out the phone and after a moment H.E.R.B.I.E. said “Done!” Shadow Knight found the cell phone number for Mustang Rogers in the address book on the phone.

“Okay, I shall see you tomorrow?” Shadow Knight said.

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” Mustang Rogers said drunkenly.

He left via the cargo bay.

* * *

When Shadow Knight got home that night, his daughter was on the couch, watching television.

“Where have you been?” she asked. “You smell like perfume … and smoke … and beer … and sex.”

“Then why are you up?” he asked. “It’s 11:45.”

“I don’t need more than six hours sleep, dad, you know that,” she said.

“True,” he said. “I was out, beat up a gang−”

“Met a girl.”

“Yah. I met one−”

“What’s her name?”

“Apparently alien …”

“She’s an alien?”

“What is it? Mustang Rogers. I believe she made it up.”

“It sounds made up if you ask me. If you don’t want to tell me, fine! Fine! I’m going to bed! Fine!”

She stood up and stomped off to her bedroom.

“Good night,” he called.

“Good night,” she called back. “I love you.”

She slammed the door to her room.

* * *

On Wednesday, October 29, 2014, Shadow Knight saw his daughter off to school. She seemed bored.

“Do we need to set you up with extra-curriculars?” he asked.

“What am I? Five?” she said. “C’mon! I don’t want to learn another instrument. I’m fine dad, jeez. Don’t worry. Just stop.”

“You know I vorry about you,” he said.

“You don’t have to worry,” she said. “I’m fine.”

“Okay.”

“School is boring. It’s basic.”

Then she was off to school.

* * *

Around noon, Mustang Rogers’ communicator buzzed.

“Hey!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said. “That guy’s calling!”

“What guy?” she said.

“Hey wait!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said. “Wait wait wait!”

A moment went by.

“Ring ring,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

“H.E.R.B.I.E.!” she said.

“That’s what they do on this planet!” he said. “Ring ring.”

“Who is it!?!” she said.

“It’s that dude in the armor.”

“What?”

“That guy you dated last night.”

“H.E.R.B.I.E. …”

“Oh …”

“H.E.R.B.I.E. …”

“I’ve been watching a lot of this stuff called ‘reality television.’”

“H.E.R.B.I.E.−”

“I know you don’t like it, but it’s really good.”

“H.E.R.B.I.E. …”

“All right, I’ll patch him in.”

“Thank you.”

There was a click.

“Uh … Night … Walker …?” she said.

“Hello?” Shadow Knight said. “That is the typical greeting when answering the phone.”

“Hello?” she said. “I know this! Howdy, partner!”

“I guess that counts as a ‘hello,’” he said.

“Am I doing something wrong?”

“You just sound … off of TV.”

“Well, you sound different from other people here too, so who am I supposed to believe?”

“I am from overseas. They … speak … differently over zhere.”

She sighed.

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

“I just rolled up into town yesterday,” she said.

“Vell, that explains the lack of knowledge of our planet,” he said.

“Uh … so … what’s … what’s our next step here, partner?” she asked.

“Vell, do you have any clue to where ze culprit could be?”

“Well … I’ve got a name.”

“Do you have a face?”

“No. He last was seen wearing his uniform.”

She described the uniform as dark green pants, shirt, and vest, the last going over the shoulders and sticking out with points. There was a red sash attached to the vest with a gold starburst cluster over the left breast. He also should have been wearing black boots and gloves and a black belt with holster for his zap gun.

“That’s what I know,” she said. “And he would probably be keeping low-key.”

“It sounds like if he’s in this outfit, he will NOT be low-key,” Shadow Knight said.

“Well, how do we find someone in this outfit?” she asked.

He thought there were some exotics in a uniform like the one she described but he didn’t know who. He wondered about using FORCE to find them.

“I can see about talking to some people to search for someone that resembles this,” he said.

“Well, gee, that’d be swell!” she said.

“So, are you going to be in town again?” he said.

“Well, this is where I call home for the moment,” she said. “But I can relocate if you feel that’s wise.”

“You’re base is pretty good. It’s out of the way and … no one should find you there.”

“But I can also travel in my … car.”

H.E.R.B.I.E.’s face popped up on a nearby monitor and a little thumbs-up image appeared next to it.

“And I can camp out in my car if need be for long journeys,” she said.

“That would not be bad idea,” Shadow Knight said.

“So, uh, when shall we go?” she said. “Where shall we go? Is there anything you need?”

“Vell, if you join up with the … American exotic agency called FORCE, you could have access to a lot of information about others that are exotic,” he said.

“That sounds promising. What would my responsibilities be to this … FORCE?”

“You register with them what you can do and where you’re from and whatever other information you want to give them. Then you have access to their database.”

“Okay, how do I do that thing that you’re talking about. How do I register with this FORCE?”

“You can do this at the police station in Charlotte.”

“Can you give me the location?”

“I could take you.”

“Oh! Let’s do that.”

They arranged to meet at the Bobby’s Jim Bob’s and from there go to the Charlotte Police Department downtown. H.E.R.B.I.E. told her he’d learned FORCE was the Federal Organization for the Registration and Certification of Exotics.

“So they probably think you’re some kind of - you know - exotic,” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

“Thank you H.E.R.B.I.E.,” Mustang Rogers said.

“Y’know, that’s what they call super-powered people here, like your friend,” H.E.R.B.I.E. went on. “Black Knight - whatever his name is.”

“Uh …” she said.

“Shadow Knight!” H.E.R.B.I.E. said.

She got into the transport and met Shadow Knight at Bobby’s Jim Bob’s. Then they went to the police station. The police told them they could register online and were willing to let them use a computer.

“You don’t have a computer at home?” one of the officers asked.

“Yeah, why’d you make us come here?” Mustang Rogers said to Shadow Knight. “Do you even know this place you live in.”

“He’s new,” another officer said. “He got arrested. That’s what I heard.”

“Has that not been expunged yet?” Shadow Knight asked.

“What the hell you talking about?” the officer asked.

“Misdemeanors?” Shadow Knight said.

“They dropped the charges against you,” the officer said. “Is that what you’re talking about?”

“Yes, why do people keep thinking I was arrested?”

“Because it’s funny!” the officer said.

He told the story of Shadow Knight’s arrest and how the man went along with it.

“Is this … is this your new girlfriend?” the officer asked Shadow Knight.

“She’s a new exotic,” he said.

They learned someone from FORCE would probably come up to talk to her and when she asked who, the officer didn’t know. He told them the main offices for the area was in Atlanta, Georgia.

“What side of the Mississippi is that on?” Mustang Rogers asked.

“Uh … this side?” the officer said.

“Fair enough,” she said.

He told them they could register online but someone would want to talk to her before they would certify her in case it was a prank. She asked what a prank was and he noted generally it was people getting on the website and lying about having powers, which was a Federal offense. He used someone saying they had laser eyes when they didn’t as an example. He noted if she said she had powers but didn’t, she’d be arrested and jailed. Then he showed her where a computer connected to the internet was. She thanked him.

They used the computer to register her with FORCE with her name, her weapons, and her resistance to harm, as well as a number where the FORCE representative could contact her. It was noted a representative would contact her soon.

“What do you do for fun around here?” she asked Shadow Knight.

* * *

Within two days, a FORCE representative met with her and she demonstrated her powers and her weapons. He thanked her for registering and told her she’d had full access to the FORCE database within 24 hours. Within a day after that, she found she could get onto the FORCE website and look through their entire database, which held a listings for numerous heroes and villains. She started cycling through them, looking for her quarry. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1955-Superworld-The-Visitor
<![CDATA[Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - Luxit Sol Campaign Session One - You're in the Army Now!]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1954-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-One-You-re-in-the-Army-Now! Wed, 21 Oct 2015 02:56:59 GMT Friday, October 16, 2015

(After playing Kit Howard’s D&D 3.5 game Friday, October 9, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. with Ethan Gordon, Katelyn Hogan, and James Dixon.)

From the recollections of Rory Buttertongue - Halfling

I had been travelling for I don’t know how long before I reached the edge of the country of Luxit Sol from my own beloved homeland of Cheshire. Once there, I learned that to travel in the country as a citizen, I would have to join the armed forces for at least six months. I was directed to the tiny military village of Landell and decided to join up, at least for a time. However, first I had to prove myself in a fight apparently.

I arrived and, when I told the men there I wished to join up, they referred me to the military encampment. I was sent to see Captain Torin in the red tent on one side of what appeared to be a parade ground. I opened the flap to see an aged man sitting behind a mahogany desk. He had a long sword with an emblem of a sun on the hilt in gold inlay. He wore a red tunic with the same sun emblem embossed over a silver chainmail jerkin. On the desk was a map of the surrounding area and a large golden seal that looked like a sun.

He looked up at me.

“Your place in the tournament will start shortly,” he said. “That is why you’re here, right?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Okay, good,” he said.

“That’s right,” I said. “I’ve come up to join the army, right? This is the right place, right?”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

“Yes sir.”

“Okay, calm down.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“There’s no real time for questions now.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“There’ll be plenty of time later.

He handed me a piece of paper, telling me once I signed it and gave it to Derdan, I was in the military.

“I need you go see Derdan,” Captain Torin said. “He’s next to the weapons pile outside. There’s a lot of weapons on the ground; if you can’t see it, I don’t want you in my army. Get out.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

I left with all due haste. I exited the tent and saw the tournament ring more clearly. It stood roughly 50 feet wide with bleachers halfway around it. On the other side there were smaller tents. Beside the tents stood the pile of wooden practice weapons. As I approached, I saw a stocky man about five and a half feet tall standing there. He had shaggy brown hair down to his shoulders and needed a shave. He wore the same style outfit Captain Torin wore but had an iron tunic instead of a silver one. He looked at the paper I handed him.

“Are you getting a weapon or are you fighting bare-handed,” he asked.

“Weapon please,” I said.

“Weapon,” he said. “Which one would you want? Pick your weapon.”

I found a large dagger that would have to do for my short sword. They didn’t have any slingshots so I took the smallest short bow they had, though it was far too large for me. I also got a handful of arrows with blunted tips. As I picked up the weapons, he took my own short sword and slingshot, telling me I’d get them back once the fight was done. He pointed out one of the tents.

“You see that tent over there?” he told me. “That’s for Team B. You’re in Team B’s tent. Go in there.”

“Team B, yes sir,” I said.

“Listen, you can see out the front, don’t be too loud or we’ll kick your ass,” he said. “Got it?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

I saluted smartly and went to the tent, which was empty. A few minutes later, a wood elf entered. He stood about five feet high and had olive skin. He wore peasant clothing.

“Hello, how are you?” I said.

“Pretty good,” he replied.

“Rory!” I said, holding out a hand for him to shake. “Rory Buttertongue.”

He shook my hand.

“John Wayne,” he said.

“John who?” I asked.

“Wayne,” he said.

“You, you’re one of those … what’re they called?” I said.

“Monks, yeah.”

“No no. Is that what they’re called? No no no no no. No, your ears.”

“Elf.”

“Elf, that’s it! I never seen one before.”

“Well, are you impressed?”

“Well, sure. You look poor though.”

“Well, monks are … subsistent.”

“They take your weapons? What’s a monk?”

“A monk? I trained with my master at a monastery.”

“Monastery? Wait, ‘at’s a church, right?”

“Not quite.”

“Temple?”

“Like a temple.”

“Hm. What are you trained in?”

“Training our minds and our bodies to fight in pursuit of our goals.”

“What … what y’ fightin’ wif?”

“My hands.”

“Yer bare … oh! Like a boxer then!”

“Yeah.”

“We had them in Cheshire. We used to have travelling boxers what come around town and they would actually box and you would bet on ‘em. It was great fun. But they used to use these … they padded their fists so they didn’t hurt each other too badly. So, the boxing would go on for a long time. We had one fight went for … 87 rounds. It was quite a sight. I fell asleep though. So, you use yer bare hands out there? Against some bloke with a sword?”

“Uh-huh. I’ll do all right.”

“Well, I’m a locksmith, though my parents were dairy farmers. That’s where Buttertongue comes from. That’s my last name. Whereabouts you from?”

“Further south.”

“Oh. I’m from Cheshire. I’m sure which direction that is. Kind of lost track. But I’m looking for adventure!”

“All right.”

“John Wayne. All right.”

I continued fiddling with the bow they’d given me.

A lovely wood elf girl entered the tent next. She wore rugged clothing and had a bow, a wooden short sword, and several practice arrows.

“Oh, hello,” I said.

“Hi,” she said.

“Rory,” I said, offering my hand. “Rory Buttertongue.”

“Are you?” she said, shaking my hand.

“Now’s the part where you tell me your name.”

“I just said Arya.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. I thought you said ‘Are you?’”

“Huh-uh.”

“And this is John Wayne.”

The monk nodded.

“He’s a monastery man who wants to fight wif jus’ his fists,” I said.

“Oh,” she said.

“So, he’s going to be … pugilistic … and … uh … he’ll be using his … uh … fisticuffs!” I said. “That’s wha’ they call it, right? In the monastery?”

“Not quite,” John Wayne said.

The two introduced themselves to each other. I was a little envious of them finding others of their own race. I had not seen another Halfling in months.

“So, y’ use a bow, eh?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

“Right,” I said. “So, I understand they’re sending us out here to fight someone. It’s not my forte.”

Then a man walked into the tent. He had brown hair and a beard and wore leather armor. He only had a couple of wooden daggers.

“Oh, hello!” I said to him. “Who are you?”

“Sorry?” he said.

“I said ‘Hello. Who are you?’” I said against. “I’m Rory. Rory Buttertongue.”

“Dack,” he said. “Dack Fel.”

“Dack Fel,” I said. “Well, this is Arya. She’s an elf. And this is John. He’s an elf too.”

“Oh,” Dack Fel said.

I tipped my straw hat to the man.

“It’s a family name,” I said. “Y’see, my parents were dairy farmers. But I’ve been trained as a locksmith.”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” Dack Fel asked.

“No no,” I said. “I’m from Cheshire. Y’ever heard of it? Of course y’ haven’t. We’re not in contact with anybody.”

“I take it you two aren’t from around here either?” Dack Fel said to the others.

“No, I’m from further south,” John Wayne said.

“Are you from around here?” I asked.

“No,” Dack Fel said.

“So you don’t know anything about this either,” I said.

“All I know is they’re humans,” he said. “Mostly, here. But I’ve got nothing against other races.”

“That’s good,” I said.

“So, we can all be friends,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “Oh. Well, that’s good.”

There was a commotion outside and I looked out of the tent flap.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Landell entry tournament,” the captain was saying. “I know everyone wants to see someone’s face get bashed in, so I won’t be long. The tournament marks the start of the enlistment in the Luxit Sol army. By fighting in this tournament, you are agreeing to the six months training time and you’re giving the sovereign King Sol your pledge to fight for this country in times of war. I know you’re all thinking you’re brave, but war is no joke. Neither is the responsibility you’re taking upon yourself. All of you will fight. Some of you will die. Not in this tournament, but the inevitability of death is upon us all. What will you do with the time before then?

“Okay, now on to the good stuff. Let the tournament begin!

“As all veterans know, the rules are as such: melee, ranged, and magical means are acceptable. All blows will be to subdue, not to kill or maim. All other rules go. Fighting is dirty and should be expected to be so. Now, the first to knock out or subdue your opponent is the winner and since there will be no questions, will Rory Buttertongue and Thwomp please report to center stage.”

I walked out.

“Thwomp?” the captain called again.

“That’s two,” I said.

“Go Thwomp!” I heard a voice say from the other tent. “Go get him!”

A gnome fell through the tent flaps. He dragged a man-sized battle axe behind him as if it was nothing. He didn’t seem to notice me though he looked like a mess. He had little patches of hair, a lazy left eye, and a gash down his face that almost touched his right eye. He walked to the center of the area. I pointed off to one side but he ignored me.

“Thwomp?” I said. “Rory Buttertongue. Good to meet you.”

He just looked around at the people, ignoring me.

“On the gong,” Captain Torin said.

I moved away from Thwomp as Captain Torin counted down and then struck the gong. Thwomp did nothing but stand there so I nocked an arrow in the terrible bow.

“Hey, careful Rory, it’s the big, dumb ones that usually hit the hardest!” Dack Fel called.

I gave him a look to let him know I knew that. Then I aimed and fired at Thwomp, the arrow missing him completely and not actually getting very far. I moved to one side out of the way. Thwomp wandered aimlessly around the place. He didn’t seem to know what was going on. I thought I heard someone in the other tent getting angry so I started loudly speaking. I didn’t want whoever was in that tent to be heard.

I fired another arrow at the gnome, missing him completely. I moved in front of the tent and saw a woman was very shrilly screaming at Thwomp. I yelled as loud as I could as well, trying to drown her out and even harmonize with her. The gnome walked towards the tent.

“Hit him with your bow!” Dack Fel called.

I tried to shoot him again and the arrow actually hit him. It didn’t seem to hurt him at all, and he walked towards the tent. I continued yelling.

“Dodge!” Dack Fel called.

Thwomp swung at me, probably to get me out of the way of his tent, but I ducked. I tumbled as the woman quieted down. I moved away and fired another shot at the gnome, missing again. He leaned in towards the tent.

“Oh, I didn’t realize they could get help from outside!” I cried out. “But, if they can, gentlemen … ladies.”

“All is fair in war!” Captain Torin called back.

“All’s fair in war?” I muttered.

“Don’t let him kill you,” Dack Fel called.

The woman in the tent pounded her fist into her hand. The gnome grinned and then moved towards me. He swung the axe at me but missed. I knew I had no chance, though I tried to stay on the defensive. Then I realized there was no point so I dropped my weapons, held my arms out, and closed my eyes.

I felt the blow of his axe on the side of my head and all went black.

* * *

I awoke later in our quarters.

I learned a cleric named Tony fought against Arya next. She did a little better than I did. The moment the gong rang, a monkey appeared behind the woman. She fought the monkey with her bow, quickly dispatching it. Tony, however, beat her down with his own weapon in one blow.

A ranger named Clyde fought Dack Fel after that. I heard Dack Fel didn’t even get to hit the man before he stabbed him in the forehead with his wooden rapier and knocked the man out.

Finally, John Wayne fought Barasa the Wizard and apparently did better than any of us. I heard the mage put up his hand but when the monk tried to hit him, he couldn’t quite reach him. He rushed at the wizard and managed to grapple the man. The mage broke free and tossed him aside but he rushed the man, who slammed him with his staff. John Wayne tried to fight the man and they exchanged a few useless blows before the wizard beat him down.

The others were all with me in our quarters when we woke. I had a bottom bunk and each chest had space for two people’s items. Our stuff was by our trunks so I loaded up mine into my trunk and armed myself.

Captain Torin entered.

“Dack, you’re in charge,” he said. “Apparently this letter seems to tell me you know how to do something beside get your ass whooped.”

He tossed the man a badge of a sun emblem with had a “C” on it. Captain Torin noted it stood for “crap.”

“Put that on somewhere visible,” Captain Torin said. “You’re responsible for these idiots. If anything goes wrong, yeah, I’ll kill you. I promise. Briefing in 20 minutes in the briefing room. Remember, if you’re 10 minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. Don’t be late.”

He left and we all went to the briefing room very early.

“I’m confused,” I said to Dack Fel as we walked. “You’re our commanding officer?”

“I guess so,” he said.

“But your rank is crap?” I asked. “I don’ understand that at all! Is that right? Am I wrong?”

“I think you’re miss-hearing,” Dack Fel said.

“What’d he say? I did get hit pretty hard on the head.”

“It’s a joke. Humans joke around a lot.”

“Oh.”

“He thought he was funny.”

“Nobody laughed.”

“Yeah.”

“So, he’s not funny. I’ll have to remember that. What’s the ‘C’ stand for then?”

“Probably the lowest ranking officer of the recruits. Something like that.”

“All right. Which is?”

“Which is the bottom rung and you’re at the bottom of the bottom rung.”

“So, humans also are vague. I get it.”

The briefing room was small with four desks for us and one for another person. We waited 10 minutes past the time we were supposed to be there. Durdan finally walked in.

“Okay, trainees, listen up, because if I have to repeat myself, you’ll be replacing a post on the wall,” he said. “If you don’t know, you’re in the land of Luxit Sol, ruled by His Majesty, King Luther Sol, bleah bleah bleah. He became king 15 years ago when his father died. Queen Anne has been by his side for the past 20 plus years. But that isn’t really that important. What is important is that at the end of the Century War, there was no king, no prince, no nothing: the whole royal family was dead. I hate dwarves.

“At the time, Commander Sol was praised as being the man behind the end of the war, but that’s more of a myth, who knows? He became our king and his family line has rebuilt this nation. You are here to gain access to our beloved country and that means being willing to put your lives on the line. Here, you will be trained how to work as a team, fight, shoot a bow, and many other useful things. Since you have already fought, and that was pretty much the only chance to get out, before you fought … they never tell anyone, do they? I didn’t think so. Anyway, you’re here for the next six months.

“Everything will be provided for you that you need. Anything extra, you have to pay for. You don’t get a lot of money. It’s 10 silver a week. Primarily that will buy you one to two drinks a night … for about three days. A week. Any questions? I didn’t think so.

“I will see you as soon as the horn blows in the morning. Then the fun starts. I expect you to hop out of those beds and get dressed in your outfits within at least two minutes and if you can’t do this, you definitely will wish you did. Your uniforms are in the chest at the end of your beds and, since you lost, take the wooden weapons back to the armory. Actually, do that now. Go.”

We returned our weapons. Our uniforms were fairly simple. They were red.

* * *

It was two months of grueling work. We were released in the evenings to go to the overpriced restaurant and tavern, which I didn’t do. We were forced to wear a chainmail jerkin, though it slowed me down and prohibited many of the skills I was best at. I was never able to find out Dack Fel’s rank was but eventually guessed he was a recruit corporal of some kind.

I also learned a little more about the country of Luxit Sol. Luther Sol’s grandfather took over the monarchy after the Century War between Luxit Sol and the dwarves. He was offered the position after that war. There were military and civilian parliaments in the country, which still, to me, seemed to be prepared for the war to resume any day. I also figured Cheshire was southwest of Luxit Sol, across uninhabited borderlands.

We finally had a day off. I suggested we went out to eat at the restaurant.

Dack Fel seemed sad but I said we’d cheer him up. I asked him why he was so sad but he was not in a talking mood so we went to the restaurant.

Sarah, the barmaid came out of the kitchen as we arrived. She asked if we wanted anything specific though noted there was an influx of deer lately, so venison and venison stew was rather cheap.

“That sounds delicious!” I said. “I will have that. The venison stew.”

“Would you like bread?” she asked.

“Bread would be nice,” I said. “Just the brown bread is fine.”

She asked if I wanted a drink but I declined due to the cost.

“How’s Nils?” I asked of her husband.

“He’s in the back,” she said.

“How is he?” I asked.

“He’s the same as always,” she said. “He gets a lot of meat, he cooks a lot of meat. You eat a lot of meat.”

“I don’t each much meat over there,” I said.

“You can say that again,” she said as she walked away.

“Was that a joke?” I asked.

“Did you notice that we’re the only four in here?” Dack Fel said. “Get Sarah back here real quick.”

I looked around and thought I saw someone in the corner but it was just a shadow.

“Well, she’ll be back with our food,” I said.

He made a look on his face and gestured for me to get her so I went. As I approached the kitchen, a man burst into the restaurant. He wore a cloak and his tunic was red with blood.

“Nils, Nils!” he cried. “Where are you Nils!?!”

Nils called from the back and the man rushed through the kitchen door and vanished into the back of the restaurant. I went over to the door but Sarah intercepted me and told me I couldn’t go into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Is everything all right?”

“That’s - that’s none of your business sir,” she said.

She closed and locked the kitchen door. I returned to the others and told them apparently it was none of our business. Dack Fel went outside and looked around. A few seconds later, I heard Nils cry from the kitchen.

“Attacked in the woods?” he said. “By who? By what? Did he get it? I don’t know! I don’t know! No, he didn’t get it. Crap! Crap! What are we to do. We need those ingredients! Commander Torin will literally have my head if anything goes wrong! Do you know anyone else who knows how to traverse those stupid woods? Find someone! Now!”

The man exited the kitchen and looked at Arya.

“You’re from the woods, right?” he said to her. “Yes? Please God, say yes.”

“Yes,” he said.

“She used to be,” I said.

“Rory, calm down,” Dack Fel said. “This is important.”

“We need some help,” the man said. “We need you to catch a boar.”

“A boar?” Dack Fel said.

“A boar?” Arya said.

“Yeah, just a boar,” the man said.

“A boar?” Dack Fel said again.

“Yeah, a boar,” the man said. “A boar.”

“It’s really a boar?” Dack Fel said.

“Yes, it is really a boar,” the man said. “I am not lying about it being a boar.”

“You are covered in blood from a boar?” Dack Fel said.

“Yeah, we need a boar, a fresh boar for the feast,” the man said. “Nils … does something over the next week and it’s just amazing. I’m sure he’ll let you know. Please say yes.”

“What the hell happened to you?” I asked.

“What’s in it for us?” Dack Fel asked.

“What’s all this blood?” I asked.

“It’s not mine,” the man said. “See? I’m good.”

“Where’d the blood come from?” Dack Fel asked.

“Whose is it?” I asked.

“It’s Chris’s,” he said.

“What happened to Chris?” I asked.

“What happens when you hunt a boar?” the man said nastily. “Sometimes you get gored!”

“Is he dead?”

“No! Not yet. That’s why we need you to do stuff because he’s not going to heal fast enough.”

“What’s it worth?”

“You get free into the ceremony next week.”

“Deal,” Dack Fel said.

“And V.I.P.” the man finished.

“Food!” Dack Fel said.

“For all of us,” I said. “Because we’ll be helpin’ her.”

“That’s the plan!” the man said. “Now, do you want to know where this is or not?”

“Yeah, sure,” Dack Fel said.

“It needs to be done by tomorrow night,” he said. “Find it and catch it.”

“Well, today’s our day off,” Dack Fel said.

“What’s your name, friend?” I asked.

“My name’s Sam,” he said. “I’m Sarah’s younger brother.”

“I didn’t know she had a brother!” I said.

He told us to go to the north where there were a few trails, one right next to the archery range. He noted it was not the trail next to the jousting range. He said it would take about four hours to get there.

“There’s a specific type of boar that we need,” he said. “It’s called the Hyacinth Boar. Have you heard of that before?”

The hyacinth boar reminded me of something from ancient lore. Something dangerous. I told the others. Dack Fel pooh-poohed me and noted we outnumbered the beast four to one.

“It’s not that dangerous,” Sam said. “You shoot it with an arrow, you’re good.”

“Sam,” I said doubtfully.

“Literally,” he said.

“Sam,” I said again.

“One arrow,” Sam said.

“Sam,” Dack Fel said.

“What’s the secret of killing it with one arrow?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “You shoot it, they’re very weak. They just spit fire.”

“Why would you not tell us this?” I said. “We’re still taking you up on your thing, but the more you tell us, the better chance we’re going to come back with it, eh Sam? Right, Sam?”

“You need to go talk to the Junds,” he said nervously. “They know more than I do.”

They owned the tavern next door. Dack Fel stood up to leave but Sam stopped him.

“Ask them for the special ale,” he said. “Swear to God, if any of you drink it, I’ll know, because you’ll die.”

“What?” Dack Fel said.

“What?” I said.

“They’ll tell you,” Sam said.

We left, assuring Sam we’d ask for the special ale. We went to the tavern. It was a place where the men would gamble for their drinks. Dack Fel called for Jude Jund. The tavern was fairly empty. Jude stood behind the counter. Jan Jund was nearby. Their mother and father, Joanna and Julius Jund owned the inn.

“What can I help you with?” Jude said to Dack Fel.

“The special ale,” Dack Fel said.

“What special ale?” Jude asked.

“The one that helps us kill the hyacinth boar,” I said.

“That special ale,” he said. “Okay. You should have been more specific. I have like seven different ales. C’mon. All of them will kill you. Don’t drink it. Seriously. Don’t drink it unless you want to shit out fire and die.”

“No,” I simply said. “I don’t.”

“Okay,” he said. “Good.”

He went into the back but then returned.

“Wait a second, why do you need this?” he asked.

“Sam sent us,” I said. “We’re going to hunt the hyacinth boar for him because his friend, Chris, may be dead in the woods, we don’t know. He wouldn’t tell us. Sam seems to be very upset about the whole situation.”

“Chris is hurt?” Jude said. “He’s been hunting that crappy boar for 20 years.”

“Has he ever caught it?” I asked.

“Every year. It’s a delicacy in this part. Every year.”

“Sam’s got blood all over him.”

“Jan! C’mere!”

He called over his sister and whispered to her. Jan ran out and Jude closed the bar, kicking everyone besides us out.

“Don’t know why Chris got attacked by the boar,” he said to us. “He would normally sit in a tree and shoot it. It is very easy. You just need the ale.”

He put it on the counter.

“To do what?” I asked. “What do we do with the ale?”

“You put it there for it to drink,” Jude said, matter-of-factly. “So it can fart fire. It’s a fire boar. It loves the ale. That’s it. It’s pretty simple. Didn’t Sam tell you how easy it’s supposed to be?”

“Sam is very upset,” I said.

“Yeah, he’s kind of hysterical,” Dack Fel said.

“Sam wouldn’t even tell us it breathed fire,” I said.

“Well, he’s a little shit,” Jude said.

“Yeah, I agree,” Dack Fel said.

“I’ll put drinks on his tab for you because he sucks,” Jude said. “Now, take this. Go find it. Go hunt it. Go.”

Dack Fel asked how aggressive it was and Jude told him it would attack us if it saw us. He advised us to stay in a tree it couldn’t climb. I picked up a small cask of ale and we left. I passed it off to Dack Fel when he asked.

Dack Fel said he wanted to stop by our room for weapons. When I pointed out I was already wearing my weapons on me, he asked why I was carrying them around on our day off.

“Why not?” I asked.

He got some supplies and we headed north. We found the archery range and three paths. I asked Arya if she could track as she was an elf but she didn’t find anything.

“Right,” I said. “We’re a unit, right corporal?”

I smiled at Dack Fel.

“I figured that out myself,” I said.

I took out a pair of dice I’d acquired from somewhere and rolled it. The die told us to go right, so we did so. We followed the trail to a clearing. We didn’t see any blood on the ground and I asked if it was a good spot. Dack Fel thought it was. Arya climbed a nearby tree. Dack Fel set the bait by opening the small cask. I climbed another tree, up about 20 feet. Dack Fel and John Wayne also climbed trees. John Wayne was up only 10 feet while Dack Fel got into the tree next to me about the same height.

We were in our places by 2 p.m. It was an hour later when the boar appeared in the clearing.

One arrow, my ass, I thought.

The boar walked into the clearing and then started drinking from the cask we’d brought. We waited for Arya, who had the only bow, to shoot the thing. Then the boar belched and a cone of fire came out of his mouth, burning the grass in an area about 10 feet beyond him. Then it farted and blasted flames out of his ass, catching a tree on fire near John Wayne. I waved desperately at Arya to shoot the boar.

She shot the animal in the leg. The boar looked at the wound and then flames licked out of it. It belched and farted flames until it was covered in fire and died. I gave Arya the thumbs up and Dack Fel and I climbed down. The trees to one side of the clearing were burning furiously. Dack Fel moved to the boar to make sure it was dead. I headed for the burning trees to try to put out the fire.

Blood splashed onto Dack Fel as he slit the boar’s throat and his arm caught on fire. He stopped, dropped, and rolled. I continued to try to put the trees out.

“Rory, c’mon!” Dack Fel called, heading out of the clearing carrying the pig.

“There’s a fire!” I said. “We got to put the fire out!”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “They don’t know it was us!”

“I’m not gonna leave a fire!” I said.

“It’s fine,” he said.

Arya climbed out of the tree and fled the clearing. She grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt.

“Let’s go,” she said.

“Don’t you want to put the fire out?” I said.

“No,” Dack Fel called.

“These trees are meant to burn,” she said. “Let’s go!”

“They’re meant to burn?” I said.

“Yes!” Dack Fel said. “‘Cause fire boars!”

I followed Arya.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“Y’know, Corp, if you tell us what’s going on, we might be able to do our jobs better,” I said.

“She just said it,” he said.

“Literally?” I asked.

“Literally,” he said. “They’re planted there for the purpose of burning.”

We headed back to the town, a couple of miles away. Then Dack Fel slowed down.

“What’s the matter corp?” I asked.

“I’m just a little tired,” he said.

He handed off the pig to John Wayne and we continued on our way. As we got close to the edge of the forest, John Wayne slowed down, exhausted.

“It’s the boar!” I said. “The boar’s poisoning us! We should tie a rope to it and drag it behind us.”

We didn’t have a rope so I suggested Dack Fel’s bandages. We doubled our pace and headed into town, this time Arya and I carrying the boar. Both of us started to feel tired. John Wayne actually stumbled through the fields as we went. I asserted the boar was cursed or poisoned and wrapped one of Dack Fel’s bandages around my face in case it was some kind of poison gas.

We struggled towards town but I started feeling better once we entered the gate to the village. I felt fine by the time we got back to the restaurant. Everyone did.

“That was weird,” Dack Fel said.

“Ask Sam,” I said. “Little prick.”

“I bet it was Sam,” he said. “I bet it was him.”

“No, it wasn’t Sam,” I said. “But I bet he knows. He wouldn’t tell us.”

I kicked the door open and we carried the boar in.

“Why did you kick the door!?!” Sarah said, walking over.

“We brought you this boar, Sarah!” I said.

“So, you kicked the door …” she said.

“I got my hands full, don’t I!?!” I said.

“There’s two other people right next to you!”

“Well, whatever the boar gives off, as curse or smell, it put them off.”

“It gives nothing off! We’ve been using it for years. All it has is fire farts and breath!”

“All I know is these two went into some strange zombie-ish effect, halfway back. And they’re the two who carried it to begin with. Where do we put this thing?”

She pulled out a small piece of paper and showed it to me. There were instructions on how to hunt the boar. It literally said if the skin was pierced, either the blood or fire would escape, causing it to die. It was a very secluded animal. After that the internals were cooked and you could eat it then or you could marinate it. Nothing else was on the paper.

“Then something else happened to us on the way back, because something made us all sick,” I said. “Maybe this boar’s no good.”

“The boar should be fine,” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m just telling you what happened, Sarah. I’m telling you that these two got messed up while carrying it. And now I’m not feeling so well either.”

“I don’t think it was the boar,” Dack Fel said. “I think it was something else.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m just saying I thought it was the boar. I apologize for kicking in the door, Sarah. I’m sorry.”

“Next time, please don’t kick in the door,” she said meanly. “I know you’re not that tall.”

“I know,” I said. “It is hard to reach that handle.”

“I know,” she said. “But please, if you need, I’ll get you a smaller door. It’s like a doggy door. Would that make you happier?”

“Yes, it would, actually.”

“Okay! We might install that.”

“Can you make it round?”

“Only if you dive through it headfirst, every single time.”

“I will. If you make it round, I will dive through it headfirst every single time.”

“Nils, I swear to god, if we ever take on this little man again, I’m going stab him in the throat with a butcher’s knife.”

“She doesn’t like you,” Arya said.

“Nils!” Sarah called.

“I hate her,” I said. “She’s a *****. I’ve never been anything but polite to her, ever. And she comes at me with this?”

Sarah threw a butcher knife and it struck the wall next to me.

“I’m not impressed,” I said to her. “You missed.”

I did notice a butcher knife had split a fly in two. She left and Nils came out of the kitchen.

“I’m sorry for my sister’s attitude,” Nils said.

“I’ve never been anything but polite to her,” I said to him.

“She’s kind of a *****,” he said.

“She hates Halflings, doesn’t she?” I said.

“She doesn’t like short people,” he said.

“A lot of people around here don’t like Halflings,” Dack Fel said.

“It’s a deep seated fear,” Nils said.

“Most people don’t trust you,” Arya said.

“What?” I said.

“Because you’re a Halfling,” she said. “Halflings are known for stealing.”

That confused me.

“I bet you’re making up stuff to make me angry,” I said to her.

Nils had been looking over the boar.

“This boar is pretty young,” he said.

I told him exactly what happened to us in the woods with the weakness. He noted it had nothing to do with the boar. He picked up the carcass with one hand and headed off into the kitchen.

“I’ll see you next week at six!” he called back to us.

Sam came in and asked if we wanted to speak to Chris, who’d woken back up. I asked if he was all right and he said so far, yes, the man was all right. We went to see him and I asked him how he felt and what happened.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I got … I was in the tree. I got tired. So, I got down to wait to wait ‘til later … and then I … something about yea tall right in my stomach.”

“You couldn’t even see what that was?” I asked.

“At that time … I almost fell out of the tree,” he said.

“You were still in the tree when it hit you?” I asked.

“No, I was so tired, I almost fell out of the tree,” he said. “I could barely see straight. I got on the ground, was walking back to the path … I heard steps and turned around and boom! The next thing I remember was Sam was putting bandages on me, trying to get me back to the town.”

“What kind of wound was it?” I asked Sam. “Could I look at your wound?”

It looked like he’d been gored by a boar all right. I asked if the hyacinth boar gored people and he said it did. When I asked him if he thought it was the boar, he said he did. He’d been gored before but he noted it was strange as there was no fire. He was unsure what happened. I related what happened to us on the way back to town. He asked if anything strange had happened when we crossed the line of the town. Dack Fel said the weariness had gone away and I agreed. He didn’t know anything else.

“Did you guys get it?” he asked.

We told him we had. I told him Sarah and Nils had taken into the kitchen and were getting it ready.

“Just wait until you try some,” he said. “It is amazing.”

I told him we had invitations and he said he hoped we got to go. Dack Fel asked if he was going and he pointed at his terrible injuries. I asked if we could bring him some and he said Nils and Sarah would. I also told Sam he needed to be more frank with people.

* * *

We tried to enter the banquet a week later but Captain Torin stopped us. He told us to get the hell out and we complied. However, Nils apparently found out and brought the first carvings to us back at the barracks.

Chris was right. It was, indeed, delicious.

Captain Torin’s attitude made me more inclined to leave the military at first opportunity.

* * *

Some two months later, we were to do reconnaissance in the woods. It was late morning when we were told of the mission. The expedition was to leave the next morning. We were to go to see the supply boy, who was only 14 years old. His name was Steven but everyone just called him supply boy.

He sat next to his cart which was slightly disheveled and out of sorts.

“It’s all ruined,” he said. “They took it. How am I going to survive without it?”

“They took what?” Dack Fel asked.

“The hooligans!” Steven said. “My sign. A good store always has a good sign and now mine is gone. I’m finished. I’ll never be able to support my mother!”

“It’s a sign,” Dack Fel scoffed. “How much would this cost to make? Can’t you make a new one?”

“That was passed down from my father,” Steven said with all due seriousness.

“I understand your pain,” Dack Fel said.

“Wait, who took it?” I said. “We’re taking it back!”

“Who took it?” Dack Fel said.

“Like I said, it was the hooligans who came by earlier,” Steven said.

“What’d they look like?” both Dack Fel and I said.

“They’re men,” Steven said. “One had blonde hair, one had black. They ran into the tavern five minutes ago.”

I pointed towards the tavern.

“Yes,” he said.

“All right, we’ll help you,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said. “You will, really? Or are you just going to trick me and take my stuff like those bastards did?”

“What?” I said. “How’d they trick you?”

“They came up, saying they were going to repaint my sign and that if I unlatched it, they would help,” he said. “And then they just took it! I gotta have the sign. It’s the only way.”

“Did you not think of reporting them?” Dack Fel said.

“We’ll find your sign,” I said. “We’ll get it. We’ll get your sign.”

“If I don’t the sign back, my mother doesn’t get her medicine,” he said. “She’ll die.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. It was easy as he was sitting on the ground.

“No, she won’t,” I said with more confidence than I felt. “Let’s go!”

I headed towards the tavern.

“I need the sign before four!” he called after us.

I held out a hand with a single thumb up.

We went into the tavern and looked around for whomever had stolen the sign. Sitting at the bar were two large men, one blonde and one with black hair. They wore traveler’s clothing. I couldn’t see a sign.

“Let me handle this,” Dack Fel said. “Let me give it a shot.”

I gestured towards the two men and the rest of us sat at one of the tables nearby. Dack Fel went to the men and sat down at the bar next to them.

“How you fellas doing?” he asked.

“Oh! Yah! It is another human!” the man said to him loudly. “How are you!?!”

“I’m good,” Dack Fel said. “How you doing? You doing good?”

“Yes! I’m good!” the man said loudly. “How are you!?!”

“I’m doing great. You guys from around here?”

“Yah! Yah! We’re going up to Denrith!”

“That’s really - that’s really nice. You stopping to get some supplies on the way here? Stop by the supply cart?”

“No! Just alcohol! It is goot!”

“It’s good?”

That’s when I left the tavern and ran to the supply wagon again. Steven didn’t have any paper but he gave me quill and ink. Then I headed for Captain Torin’s office. He was not in so I slipped in and stole a piece of paper from his desk. I went back to our room and got to work on forging a document declaring the bearer to be a duly deputized officer of the law. The task took me about a half hour and, unfortunately it looked terrible and I realized it would not fool anyone. Disappointed, I tucked it away and headed back for the tavern.

“Well, that didn’t work,” I told them when I found them still talking in the tavern.

The two men were gone.

“They gave us a riddle,” Dack Fel told me.

“Who?” I asked.

“The guys,” he said. “They know where the sign is. They definitely hid the sign.”

“Why’d they hide the sign?” I asked.

“That’s a good question. We don’t know.”

“Where are they? They’re gone.”

“They’re gone. But they told us where the sign−”

“Where did they go?”

“We don’t know but they told us where the sign might be.”

“Oh, let’s go get it then.”

“We figured … they told us north but they told her south. And … they told her it’s buried. They told me the sign will fall and they told him …”

“Through the trees,” John Wayne said.

“Through the trees,” Dack Fel said. “So, we’re thinking it’s in the trees.”

“That seems very vague,” I said.

“It is very vague,” Dack Fel agreed. “But, he’s the odd man out. They told us pretty much the same thing. So, that could mean either the majority rules or she’s got all the right information.”

We discussed what to do and eventually agreed to split up. Though it was pointed out two of them were told to go to the north while Arya was told to look to the south, she insisted on going south. Dack Fel and John Wayne would go north and Arya and I would go south, each group to look for the sign. I wanted to know who the two were and was told “they like sword parties,” whatever that meant.

We split up and headed out. I suggested we talk to Steven but he was not at his supply cart so we headed south out of the village. We headed past the fields to the forest around the entire village and started searching. We searched for a few of hours but found nothing. I told her to keep looking and I ran back to town. It still took me about 20 minutes to get back to the village, as I had to stop several times on the way to catch my breath.

I went to talk to Nils, first about who in town might be able to make a sign quickly. I told him the situation of Steven getting his sign stolen. He didn’t have anything and I looked through the loose scrap material behind the restaurant but found nothing. I gave up on that and headed over for the armory where the blacksmith worked.

I ended up talking to the man who ran the window for the blacksmith. I asked if there was anything that could be rigged as a sign but there was nothing. I did manage to borrow a bucket of ashes. Then I headed back to the tavern. I’d seen the two men go back in there.

I went in, very happy with my bucket of ash.

“I can’t believe I finally found it!” I said loudly. “I found the magic ash!”

I called for ale and actually spent money to lend credence to my good fortune. The two men sat at the bar and I ignored them, making it look like I was talking to myself about magic ash that granted wishes.

“I’m going to be rich!” I said. “I’m going to retire from the army. I can’t wait! I can’t wait!”

Three of the four military men in the place walked over. The men at the bar ignored me. I continued talking up the magic ash.

“What’s that?” one of the officers said.

I shushed him.

“I don’t want anybody to know!” I said loudly.

“Know what?” he said.

“Okay, look,” I said. “There’s a place in the woods where you can get magic ash. I can’t tell you. Well, I mean I could. I could tell you! But I can’t tell everybody because then everybody’ll want some. And it only takes a handful.” Then I stage-whispered. “And they say your wishes come true! It’s like fairy poop or something, I don’t know.”

“Fairy poop?”

“Pixie poop? Pixie poop - that’s the word! Pixie poop!”

“I’ve heard about that once!”

“Yeah!”

“What does it do?”

“I heard it grants wishes.”

“What kinds of wishes?”

“I dunno! I haven’t tried it yet!”

“Can I wish for more wishes?”

“Uh … that sounds dangerous.”

“Yeah.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of paradox?”

“I’d probably make things implode like that bag of holding I had once.”

“You have a bag of holding?”

“Yeah, I put another one in it because I thought it’d be able to hold a lot. I just disappeared! Along with my hand.”

“Ah!”

I realized I was talking to a captain.

“But you have to use your hand to use the ash!” I said.

“Oh!” he said.

“NO!” I said.

“Can’t I use my left one?” he asked.

“No, it’s only right hands!” I said.

“But I wanna wish for my right hand back!”

“I know! I’m so sorry!”

The men at the bar remained oblivious. We talked about the magic ash for the next hour or so, my hoping the men at the bar would be interested enough to either try to steal it or be willing to sell the sign for it. I had to keep fending off the captain and others who wanted to make it work. I blamed the captain’s red hair and he continued to try to use the ashes to make wishes. Some of his experiments were … unique.

I later learned that Arya had found the sign and ran back with it to Steven’s house - too late. His mother was dead. We were able to get our supplies in the morning for the mission. It was a day or two later before we saw him again.

When we went to the boy, his sign was up there. I didn’t remember to look at it, however.

“My mother was buried yesterday,” he told us. “I fixed the cart up last night, just to keep my mind off of her. I didn’t know what to call my shop until now: The Angelic Nest. After her. Her name was Angela. And I will never get another. I really don’t know what I’m going to do now. I was only here to get her medicine. But … if you need anything, I’ve got it.”

I took the bucket back as well.

“Thank you, I shit in that!” the man at the front desk said.

Apparently the shitter bucket was the only one he had to lend me. I told him not to tell Captain Morrow.

“He put his head in it,” I said. “Just don’t tell him, please.”

* * *

We woke up some weeks later, on the day before we were to make our choice of staying in the army or not, with the war horns blaring. Dread filled my chest as I realized it wasn’t a drill. Captain Torin rushed into the room with his rapier dripping with blood.

“****ing filthy goblins!” he said. “I’ll hang whomever had guard duty. Let those little rats into my base will they? You four! Yes! You idiots who are good at finding things. Follow me now!”

I saluted and we ran after him.

He led us to the commander’s tent. He opened the flap to let us in first. The interior was in shambles. The desk was a mess. Three goblins lay on the floor, cut to pieces. It looked like they’d been run through with a rapier. They appeared to have been looking for something from the mess.

“My seal is gone,” Captain Torin said, rummaging through the desk.

He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled for a few seconds, he put the paper on the table.

“THIS is what it looks like,” he said.

It was a rough drawing of the same seal I’d seen when I’d first been interviewed by the man some time before. It was simply a sun.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what is so important about the seal,” Dack Fel asked.

“It’s my personal seal,” he said. “Anything that has my name on that gets done. So go ****ing get it.”

“Okay,” Dack Fel said.

“Be careful,” Captain Torin went on. “One of them has magic. You see these little bastards? They weren’t here when they first got in here. They magically sprung up like daisies. Watch yourself. Also, the guard told me they headed somewhere north on boars.”

“Okay,” Dack Fel said.

“Bye,” Captain Torin said.

“Bye,” Dack Fel said.

We left the tent and headed north. I asked Dack Fel if we shouldn’t have looked in his tent for clues but Dack Fel said the man might find it there and if he found it, he found it. Dack Fel pointed out he had ordered us north. I conceded and he noted he didn’t want to look at the captain again as he was scary. Dack Fel suggested Arya track the boars. She found the tracks, which led north and we followed them out of town.

She lost the trail out of town but continued looking. One of the guards told us he’d seen them go down one of the goat trails to the north. We headed up that way. Arya spotted pig droppings but told us the tracks had disappeared. We followed the droppings. I suggested the wizard might have made magic boars that disappeared.

We followed the trail for about 30 minutes and Arya found the tracks again. Even I could see the torn up earth and Dack Fel suggested we had a spell cast upon us. Shortly after that, we came to a hole in the rock. It was six to seven feet tall: a doorway cut out of the stone.

“Oh, it’s going to be dark as hell in there,” I said.

We discussed what to do and realized we had no torches. Stairs led downward and we could see light radiating from the bottom. I suggested I sneak in to see what I could see. We discussed it. It was decided Dack Fel and I would go in first.

“You two wait up here at the entrance, for us to come screaming out,” I said to Arya and John Wayne.

We crept into the hole. The rough, slick steps led down about 20 feet before opening into a room with another opening on the far wall and two wooden barricades with arrow slits in them. I urged Dack Fel ahead and he went forward to examine them for traps. I slipped back up the steps to tell the others what I’d found. Then we returned and entered the room behind Dack Fel, who whispered up all was clear.

A couple of nasty beds and chairs were in the wide room as well as two torches. Dack Fel searched the place while John Wayne and I took a place on either side of the far doorway, ready in case anyone came into the room. Dack Fel picked up a torch. He asked who wanted to carry it. There was some discussion on what to do next.

We started to explore the narrow corridor beyond the far door. It split into three. Dack Fel went to the right, I went up the middle, and John Wayne headed to the left. The tunnels to either side had visible light coming from further down. There was a faint light at the end of the straight, middle passage and I could hear goblins talking about the seal down there. I told Arya and the rest quickly.

“What do we do, Corp?” I asked.

There was talk of going up the middle or taking them from other sides. I snuck up the middle corner, creeping forward. I found a door at the end with two torches burning, one on either side of it. I didn’t see any goblins. I thought I could hear them on the other side of the door, however. They were talking about various, unimportant things. I snuck back to the rest and found Arya there alone. I told her what I found and asked where the other two were. She told me they’d gone down either way. I mentioned it felt like a trap.

“The door?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “It seems like a trap. I’ll go check it.”

“Should I follow you?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Well … hang back about 15 feet. If it all goes bullocks then kill everyone.”

I headed up the corridor and Dack Fel appeared behind me and whispered something to Arya. I searched the entire hallway very carefully without finding anything. I gave Arya a thumbs up and then searched the last section nearest the door. I looked carefully at the door and noticed the keyhole looked fake, as if it was painted on. The doorknob looked real. I whispered back the door was a fake and then headed back to the group.

“I think it’s a fake door,” I told them in a whisper. “The keyhole’s been painted on.”

Dack Fel went to the door and I backed away about 20 feet. He crouched and put his ear to the door.

“Oh no,” he hissed back at us. “Guys! I’m stuck to the door!”

He pulled on the door and it swung towards us. With a vibration, the floor slid away from us some 15 feet from the door, heading slowly for it. A deep, dark pit lay below. Dack Fel tried to pull himself free of the door and John Wayne ran towards the man. I suggested Arya wait by this edge of the pit to aid them when they jumped back across. Then I moved back to watch the other two corridors, taking out my slingshot and a bullet. With a nasty tearing sound, John Wayne ripped Dack Fel from the door. The latter bled from the ear.

John Wayne ran back and leapt across the pit but Dack Fel stumbled as he jumped and fell into the pit and out of sight. There was a nasty, cracking sound a moment later from the pit and Dack Fel screamed in pain.

There was a blank wall behind the door.

“What’s down that way?” I hissed a John Wayne.

“Dead end,” he said.

I watched the other direction, the one Dack Fel had gone first. Happily, nothing came down the corridor. Arya went to the edge and looked down as Dack Fel continued to scream. He’d broken his leg in the fall.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

“Get me out!” Dack Fel screamed. “Get me home!”

John Wayne went back to the first room and looked around. I suggested using the wooden chairs as a splint and Arya asked how we would get the man out.

“Well, get him out,” I whispered. “Get him out.”

I went into the first room and started tearing the rotten blankets into strips. They were terribly rotten so I braided the strips into a makeshift rope. Unfortunately, it took me some time. John Wayne headed out of the cave but returned shortly after. Dack Fel yelled for a health potion and I asked Arya to tell him to shut his mouth while I continued working on the makeshift rope. Once I finally got it finished, I went back to the pit and tossed a torch in.

Dack Fel was gone.

“We lost the Corp,” I muttered. “Let’s go find the Corp!”

I led the way down the hallway to the right, searching for traps. It didn’t help. I was hit by a small dart in the leg. I grunted and saw where it came out. I drew my short sword and cut the string.

“That’s how it should have been handled the first time!” I muttered.

I tucked the dart into my belt pouch.

We continued creeping down the hallway. It got darker ahead but then the corridor curved into steep stairs down. There was light at the bottom and I put my torch out as we crept forward. I looked at each steps in the hopes of finding a trap before it was set off. I slipped into the shadows as I reached the entrance of the room.

A large table dominated the center of the chamber. Off to one side was a smaller table with clay plates and cups. A bed was pushed against the far wall. The entire place was illuminated by a pair of torches. In the far corner to the right, Dack Fel was trussed up and unmoving. Standing on one side was a hobgoblin. It looked like a kobold was on the bed. Both of them were looking towards the opening where I hid, probably alerted to our presence by the light we had lit before.

I had my slingshot in my hand and I aimed at the hobgoblin and shot. The bullet struck the horrible creature.

“Attack!” I shouted.

John Wayne moved into the room but hung back. I fired another shot at the hobgoblin but missed him completely. The bullet ricocheted off into the darkness. Behind me, Arya moved up to my side and shot the hobgoblin with an arrow. Off to the side, Dack Fel struggled with his bonds. Then he rolled over towards the bed, grabbing his daggers.

The little kobold took out the wand and waved it. A goblin appeared right in front of John Wayne, trying to stab him with a rusty sword. The hobgoblin picked up a crossbow and fired at me but missed. The goblin stabbed John Wayne and cut him pretty badly. John Wayne punched the goblin in the stomach and the goblin fell backwards and vanished. Then John Wayne moved towards the hobgoblin, going around the side of the table, and I fired another shot at the beast, hitting him in the upper chest. Arya raised up her bow to fire another arrow at the hobgoblin but her bowstring broke. She cursed. Then Dack Fel swung from the floor at the kobold, missing him completely. He rolled away, apparently in great pain.

The hobgoblin moved to John Wayne, drawing a sword. He stabbed the man and he went down.

The kobold chanted and pointed at Dack Fel. Colors flashed around the man and he stared at the kobold, dazed. I headed into the room.

“Get the hobgoblin!” I yelled at Arya.

I fired a shot at the kobold, hitting him. It was only a glancing blow, however. Arya drew her short sword and moved towards the hobgoblin. Dack Fel looked dazed but flung a dagger at the hobgoblin, hitting the creature, who stumbled and fell to the ground.

“Welp, time to get the kobold,” Arya muttered.

The kobold swung his wand and another goblin appeared, this one in front of me. The creature swung a sword at me but missed completely. I tumbled past him and then fired another shot at the kobold, hitting him. The goblin ran after me and swung his sword at me, cutting me only slightly.

“Get off me!” I screamed at the horrible creature.

Arya crossed the room and stabbed at the kobold, who leapt to one side. Dack Fel flung a knife that struck the wall and clattered behind the bed. The kobold swung a tiny staff at Arya but missed her. I tumbled away from the goblin, moving towards the kobold.

“Screw you!” I screamed at him.

I dropped the slingshot as I tumbled and drew my sword silently, flanking the kobold as quietly as I could. The goblin rushed at me and swung a sword at me.

“Get away from me!” I shouted.

Arya missed the kobold again. Then Dack Fel flung another dagger, missing again.

“Surrender and you’ll live!” I shouted at the kobold.

He tried to tumble out of the way and I stabbed him. Down he went, dropping his wand. The goblin vanished.

“Oh well, that was fun,” Dack Fel said. “But can someone get me a ****ing splint!?!”

I ran by the two of them to John Wayne.

“Anyone good with healing?” I said.

“Patch him up!” Dack Fel said.

Arya bound the man’s wounds and he woke. Dack Fel told him we’d won as I went over and picked up the wand, tucking it into my belt. Then I searched the kobold for the seal. Unfortunately, the creature was dead so we couldn’t interrogate him. Dack Fel asked her to patch his legs up and I searched the room, looking for the seal.

There was nothing of value in the room but I found a secret door in the corner where Dack Fel had lain. A dark passageway was behind the door.

I relit my torch from one of the ones in the room and we headed in. It went to the left and ended in a small room with a chest. I warned the others it might be trapped and Dack Fel searched it. When he found no traps but found it was locked, I told him I was a locksmith. He ignored me and used picks and tools to open the lock. There were four items in the chest and the three of us picked up three of them as if they were meant for us.

I took a pouch with three small rings and a pair of spectacles within. I could somehow tell they were all linked together. Arya picked up a dark leather wrist guard for an archer. She put it one and it fit her perfectly. Dack Fel found an ugly gray wool cloak. He put it on and it matched his outfit, turning red. There was also a pair of white gloves which we took to John Wayne who put them on. They fit perfectly.

The seal was also in the chest. I handed it over to Dack Fel.

I found some small, unset traps in the corridor as well. I took the three darts from the trap.

We returned to the town and went to the commander’s tent. Dack Fel took the seal within. He returned after a few moments and told me to go in to talk to Captain Torin who questioned me about what happened. I told him we went into the place, Corp fell into a trap and we tried to get a rope together but he was gone by the time we did so. We went on down and fought the hobgoblin and the kobold, killing them and finding a few items, along with the seal, which he was supposed to return. I told him both the kobold and his hobgoblin minion were dead, but noted we’d left the boars and could go back and get them if he wanted. I made no mention of the magic wand.

“Question for you?” he asked. “Why did you all leave him in the pit when you were making the rope?”

“I was making the rope,” I said. “I didn’t know anyone else wasn’t looking after him.”

“Next,” he said.

I left and Arya and then John Wayne went into the tent. Then Captain Torin called us all in and thanked us. He took Dack Fel’s badge and told John Wayne he was now in command as he had seemed the most concerned about Dack Fel’s safety. He was the first to run over and the first to check outside when things weren’t getting done, trying to move things along.

“Now that you’ve finished your training, you have to make a choice,” Captain Torin told us. “The choice must be made as a squad, so think about it and tell me.”

“I have a quick question,” Dack Fel said. “We kind of noticed in that last hallway, it kind of looked like there were ways to reset the traps. Was this some kind of test?”

“No,” Captain Torin said.

He didn’t look happy at being interrupted.

“You may either stay in the military and work for us as a special recon squad, because you seem to be pretty decent at getting things back for us,” he went on. “Or you can go your own way. And if you ever get recalled, I hope to God you’re not under my command.”

He sighed.

“So, think it over,” he said. “Let me know. You have until tomorrow when the cart leaves.”

We returned to the barracks to discuss it. I asked what John Wayne thought of it.

“Stay or go our own way?” I said.

“Well, here’s the way to look at it,” Dack Fel said. “We all have our own reasons for being here. Why are you here? Why did you decide to join the military?”

“Citizenship,” I said. “Yeah, that’s about it.”

“And … what are you looking to do here?” he asked.

“Iunno,” I said.

He stared at me.

“How about you?” he asked the elf woman.

“The forest got boring,” Arya said.

“Your forest got boring?” Dack Fel said.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Okay,” he said.

“I like to explore,” she said.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” I said. “I like to explore too. I’ll take her reason.”

“And what about you Corp?” Dack Fel asked.

“Well, eventually my master from the monastery died and I’m out on an adventure to basically train and grow and start my own,” John Wayne said.

“Your own … monastery?” I asked.

“My own monastery,” he said.

“What about you?” I asked Dack Fel.

“So that leaves me,” he said.

“Former Corp,” I said.

“As some of you may not have actually known, I was in the military in my own home country,” he said. “The reason I went to this country is I found out that they killed my parents and turns out the government did not have the people’s interests in mind and so … I’m trying to create my own little resistance to bring back there. Or get strong enough to take them down myself. It’s one man vs. an entire country. Or a small group in that large government.”

“Which direction?” I asked.

“It’s in the north,” he said.

“That’s a long ways,” I said.

He noted he had a long way to go before that. He was of the opinion that being in the military would allow him to get his own squad to accomplish his goals.

I asked John Wayne if he was for staying in or getting out. He was for getting out. Dack Fel wanted to stay in. Arya said she was out and I expressed the opinion that I wanted out of the military as well. I noted it had to be unanimous.

“It does,” John Wayne said.

“So why don’t you change your vote,” I said to Dack Fel.

“I say in because, they give us missions, we get better,” he said. “But I guess I’ll trust your decisions.”

“It’s got to be unanimous,” I said.

“No,” he said. “No.”

“Because quite frankly, I’m tired of that … of certain people who shall remain nameless, because they’re probably listening at the door.”

“Wouldn’t you like, one day, to be above that guy?”

“No!”

“Probably not,” John Wayne said.

“Okay,” Dack Fel said.

“Plus, I won’t ever be,” I said.

“That’s fine,” he said.

“You know how many times I’ve been called shortstack?” I said. “I don’t like it.”

I told them I was tired of being in the military and suggested we go to his home country and kick some ass. He noted we had citizenship in Luxit Sol. I told him we’d make our way. He was still unsure, noting he’d gotten beaten pretty bad when he left. I told him we’d sneak in. John Wayne told him the military wouldn’t let him take his squad out of the country so it was a way to build up our own mercenary force.

John Wayne went to the Captain and told him we were not staying in the military.

* * *

We were given our pay for the end of the six months. I got 25 gold pieces. We were also told we’d be given enough supplies to get to the next city, a wagon to use, and a driver to drive us there. It was about a week’s journey.

Steven, the supply boy, had all of his things packed up and was going with us, leaving the town as he had no reason to stay. He was done with the military. He hated what they’d done to his parents. As we had fought for him, he was going to travel with us. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1954-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-One-You-re-in-the-Army-Now!
Superworld: Fire and Ice Session Three Part 1 - Interrogating Super Villains http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1951-Superworld-Fire-and-Ice-Session-Three-Part-1-Interrogating-Super-Villains Fri, 11 Sep 2015 23:40:53 GMT Tuesday, September 8, 2015 (After playing the original Superworld scenario “Fire and Ice” from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday with Kyle Matheson,... Tuesday, September 8, 2015

(After playing the original Superworld scenario “Fire and Ice” from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday with Kyle Matheson, Aaron Scott, Joey Scott, and James Brown.)

On Saturday, October 25, 2014, Absolem’s Riddle vanished after the battle with The Flamer and Absolute Zero as did Protean, leaving Arclight and Edward at the scene with Doug the Pug. Arclight flew Edward to a nearby roof. He realized the police would probably let them talk to the super villains they’d captured. He looked at the frigid gun Edward had taken from Absolute Zero and then called Tinker on his cell phone.

“What d’you want?” Tinker answered.

“Uh … wow … so you’re actually in town?” Arclight said.

“I-I’ve been in town this whole time,” Tinker said.

“Uh … yeah … well, we just, like, totally busted some super villains, man,” Arclight said.

“That’s cool!”

“Oh.”

“What d’you want?”

“Uh … yeah, okay, so I got this gun that I’d like for you to look at.”

“Another gun?”

“Yeah, it’s a weird one though, and I think I kind of want to use it with my super powers.”

“God, they’re all weird. What’s up with this one?”

“It freezes people.”

“Ah … cool. Ha … ha.”

Arclight laughed.

“So, yeah, we should meet up at … uh … somewhere and I can show you this gun and … uh … I think Edward might have something for you too, I don’t know,” Arclight said.

“Well, if you bring it by my place, I can check it out here,” Tinker said.

“Okay,” Arclight said. “Where do you live?”

Tinker gave him his address and Arclight put it into his phone, then set it up on the GPS.

“Okay, I’m going to go get Edward,” Arclight said. “We’ll be there in a bit.”

He hung up the phone.

“You wanna go see Tinker?” he asked Edward.

“Sure,” Edward said.

“Yeah,” Arclight said.

“Who’s Tinker?” Doug said.

“You know Tinker,” Arclight said.

“Oh yeah, that leather guy,” Doug said.

“Yeah. Yeah, the really smart guy.”

“Is he smart?”

“Yeah, he’s smarter than me and you.”

“He didn’t seem to be.”

“He’s smarter than us.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh well. Let’s go!”

Doug flew off in the wrong direction. Arclight picked up Edward and they flew after Doug, calling for him. They eventually got to Tinker’s two-story apartment building in a lower-class part of town. They walked up the stairs to the balcony above. Arclight tried to open the door. Then he knocked.

Oh, for ****’s sake, Tinker thought inside the apartment.

He went to let them in. As soon as he saw it was Arclight, he turned and went back down the hallway to the extra bedroom where he did all his work. Doug bounded into the room, following him. Arclight and Edward followed as well.

“Hey man,” Arclight said. “So, here it is.”

He took out a large gun that appeared to be made out of plastic. It was a dark blue and thickened at the barrel. A single dial, turned all the way to the right, was on the back of the weapon. It had 10 little marks around it. A lighter blue plastic area was on the top of the weapon and seemed to glow slightly, pulsing. It was cold to the touch. Tinker figured it had to be insulated somehow.

“I don’t know how to reload it,” Arclight said.

“So, this freezes stuff?” Tinker asked.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“Have you used it?” Tinker asked.

“Yeah, it freezes people,” Arclight said.

“Like a gun?” Tinker asked.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“Jesus,” Tinker said.

“Edward used it!” Doug said.

“I used it too,” Arclight said.

“I used it too,” Edward said.

“When you fire it, is it a liquid? Is it a solid? Is it a gas?” Tinker asked.

Arclight explained a beam came out that froze stuff. It almost looked like a solid beam of ice, but when the trigger was released, the beam disappeared and the ice remained on the target. He told the man he could shoot it if he wanted. Tinker lit a cigarette, decided they would, and suggested taking it back behind the building to see how it worked. Both Arclight and Doug cheered.

They walked behind the apartment building where there was a vacant lot where the kids in the neighborhood played baseball, using whatever they could find for bases. A few Hispanic youths all wearing the same blue and green colors were standing in one corner of the lot, smoking cigarettes, or something.

“Vamanos!” Tinker yelled at them.

Arclight glowed and flexed his muscles. Some of them put their hands into their pockets and one crossed his arms.

“Yo, homes, we ain’t goin’ nowhere, man,” he said.

“Man, that’s Arclight, man,” one of them hissed to another. “He’s that super guy.”

“You a super man?” the youth with the crossed arms said. “You got super powers?”

“Yeah, we’re getting ready to shoot a gun,” Arclight said.

“You gonna shoot it at us, man?” the boy said.

“No, well …” Arclight said. “No. But maybe move.”

The youths looked at him and Edward and then left reluctantly, almost as if they were doing them a favor by moving at all.

“Don’t you mess with us, man!” one of them yelled as they left.

There were a few bottles on the ground and they could smell marijuana in the air. An empty plastic Ziploc bag lay where the youths had been standing.

Tinker pointed the frigid gun at one of the bottles and pulled the trigger. Though there was no recoil, the weapon made a really loud noise as a beam of what appeared to be solid ice burst from the weapon and struck a bottle, encasing it quickly in ice. By the time Tinker let off the trigger, it had formed a cocoon a couple feet across. Arclight picked up the ice ball and laughed.

“It’s cold,” he said.

He tossed it to Edward, who caught it. It was very cold.

“That’s a weird gun, huh?” Arclight said to Tinker.

“Is the ice stronger than normal ice?” Tinker asked.

“I don’t know,” Edward said. “Let’s find out.”

He dropped the ice ball and started smashing it with the rock, as did Arclight. The ice was slowly chipped away but didn’t appear to have any more strength than regular ice. Then Arclight put down the rock and punched the ice, breaking a big chunk off it.

“Man, that was all I had!” Arclight said. “This ice is really strong. That’s why I want to use it.”

“It’s not that strong,” Edward said.

Tinker turned the knob all the way in the other direction. He fired at another bottle and the loud blast missed it, striking a rock next to it. Frost formed on the rock but no ice formed on it. However, it did crack and break in half.

“I thought I was going to turn down the intensity,” Tinker said. “But what I think I did was turn it up.”

“Ah, yeah,” Arclight said, like he knew what he was talking about.

“Did he … do that to you guys?” Tinker asked.

“We did it to him,” Arclight said. “We just turned the dial until it wouldn’t turn anymore and then we just shot him.”

“We kind of got pissed,” Edward said.

“Did he get encased in ice or did he freeze and break?” Tinker asked.

“Uh … he’s encased right now, actually,” Arclight said.

“So, he’s probably dead,” Tinker said.

“That’s … I don’t like killing people,” Arclight said. “I hope that’s not what happened.”

“Meh,” Edward shrugged.

“Edward!” Arclight said. “He might be all right.”

“He was still alive when we left,” Edward said.

“All right,” Tinker said.

“Edward bit him,” Arclight said.

“He froze me, like, twice,” Edward said.

“You still bit someone!” Arclight said.

“So?” Edward said.

“You’re not supposed to bite, Edward,” Arclight said. “So, where do you think it gets its power source from?”

“I don’t know,” Tinker admitted. “The only thing that I can think of that super-cools right now is Freon, but there is no way that this gun has enough of it to do this kind of output.”

“Magic,” Edward said.

“Magic?” Arclight said.

“Magic,” Edward said.

“Um … I don’t know,” Tinker said. “I’ve been looking at guns for way too long.”

“I mean, I can just use it until it runs out,” Arclight said.

“Well, I mean, we don’t know what’s going to happen when it runs out,” Tinker said.

“It could explode,” Edward said.

“It might explode,” Tinker said. “I mean, unless you want it, it’s yours, but that’s how it works.”

“Well, technically it’s Edward’s,” Arclight said. “But you gave it to me for my birthday, right?”

“Do the cops know we have this?” Edward asked.

“No,” Arclight said.

“Shhh,” Tinker said.

“They don’t?” Edward said.

“I’ll talk to the chief about it later,” Arclight said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“He doesn’t know?” Edward said.

They discussed Absolute Zero telling the police his gun had been taken.

Tinker looked at the frigid gun and thought about the alien weapon he’d been examining. He had figured out it used a single atom of anti-matter for power but didn’t know how to get more. He guessed the anti-matter was kept in the weapon in some kind of magnetic bottle. He was certain the weapon gave off a single and so he’d made, essentially, a jamming device to keep it from getting out. The device had, at first, covered a large area, most of his apartment in fact. However, he was unsure how a cell phone signal might compromise the field, meaning he had been ignoring his phone. Just that night, however, he’d refined the field so it only covered the weapon, meaning he felt able to answer his cell phone again.

I’ve been looking at guns for two long, so I’m going to take a break, he thought. I need to do something else because I’m going crazy.

He handed the frigid gun back to Arclight and told him how it worked, also advising him to be careful. He noted if the dial was turned all the way one direction, it encased an object in ice whereas if turned the other way, it froze the object itself. Edward suggested labeling it.

“Doug, did you catch all that?” Arclight said.

“If you turn it, it turns to ice,” Doug said.

“Oh, Jesus,” Tinker muttered.

“And if you turn it the other way, it turns it to other ice,” Doug said.

“Ah, two ice,” Arclight said, knowingly.

“Jesus,” Tinker muttered again. “Here, give it back.”

“Huh?” Arclight said as Tinker took it from him.

“I’m going to label this gun,” Tinker said.

He took out a small label maker and put labels on either side. One side said “ice ball” and the other said “ice object.” He put them on the gun and handed it back to Arclight.

“Okay …” the man said.

There’s no way he could get this wrong, Tinker erroneously thought.

“So, what are we doing?” Tinker said.

“Well, I think we should probably go interrogate the people we caught tonight,” Arclight said. “I mean, it is a little late. Are you good? Do you need some sleep?”

Tinker said he didn’t as he’d been sitting for a while.

“I’ll just go talk to my buddy the chief and he’ll probably just let us interrogate,” Arclight said. “He’s always pretty accepting of these things.”

They decided to meet at the police station. Tinker ran back to his apartment to change into his super outfit.

“So, Edward, while he’s changing … I’ve been thinking,” Arclight said. “When are you going to start showing yourself to the public, because it’s really bothering me that you don’t.”

“Why is that bothering you?” Edward asked.

“Because … I do it, and you should to,” Arclight said.

“You’re not running from people,” Edward said.

“You’re running from people? Wait. What? Who are you running from?”

“I mean … there’s a reason I’m standing on two feet with this suit on.”

“Because you have really strong legs.”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t need the other two for walking like other gators.”

“The suit allows me to do that.”

“Crocodile,” Doug said. “He’s a crocodile.”

“Oh,” Arclight said. “Crocodile. I’m sorry. I hope that didn’t offend you.”

“It does but it’s okay,” Edward said.

“Don’t bite me,” Arclight said.

“I’ve gotten used to it by now,” Edward said.

“We animals, intelligent animals, have to stick together,” Doug said.

“Right!” Edward said.

He and Edward fist-bumped.

“But you don’t have to run from them,” Arclight said. “We can handle them when they find you.”

“I don’t know that,” Edward said.

“You know!” Doug said. “You got Doug the Pug on your side! Yeah!”

“Undefeated,” Arclight said.

“And Arclight!” Doug said. “His sidekick! No, I’m just kidding! I’m kidding!”

“Aw,” Arclight said.

Doug ran over and nuzzled the man, licking him.

“Good one, Doug,” Arclight said. “But yeah, we can handle it. It’s not a problem. But you should really start working on your interview skills for the public.”

“My interview skills?” Edward said.

“Yeah,” Arclight said. “You gotta get in front of the camera or else nobody knows who you are and that sucks, right?”

“I don’t really need people to know who I am,” Edward said.

“Why?” Arclight said. “It’s so cool when they ask for your autograph.”

Tinker walked back over.

“We’ll talk about this later,” Arclight whispered to Edward.

They headed off to the police station, Arclight flying with Edward and Tinker driving there on his motorcycle. Arclight and Edward arrived first but Tinker got there soon after. Arclight ended up talking to Sgt. Leroy Smith, a black, heavyset man with a mustache. Arclight had talked to him before.

“Leroy, what’s up, my man?” Arclight said to him.

“What do you need Arclight?” Sgt. Smith said.

“Well, you got those two guys up in some cells for us, right?” Arclight said.

“Right, they’ve been taken up to the Exotics Detention Facility,” Sgt. Smith said.

“Yeah, I’d like to interrogate ‘em, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t think the chief’ll care.”

“Yeah, I don’t either.”

“They’re being processed. They might be done.”

“Okay.”

“You know where it is?”

“Yeah, I know where it is. They’re the only two, right? There’s no more exotics are there?”

“The Gentleman is in there.”

“The Gentleman as well.”

“He is incommunicado though. They’re not allowing anyone to talk to him because−”

“Of his powers.”

“−of his powers. Yeah.”

“Exactly.”

“Yeah, they go robots or something feeding him and he’s in a cell buried a couple hundred feet down or something.”

“Good.”

“I don’t know.”

“Good.”

“At least until his indictment next month.”

“So, we’re not allowed to see him?” Edward asked.

“They talk to him with cameras,” Sgt. Smith said. “They can’t talk to him face to face because they’re afraid he’ll use … they’re trying to assess what he can do exactly. He’s not being helpful.”

Arclight noticed Sgt. Smith had a wedding ring.

“How’s the wife?” he asked. “She doing all right?”

“Loretta?” Sgt. Smith said.

“Yeah,” Arclight said.

Sgt. Smith started talking about Loretta. He obviously loved her but it sounded like she ran the family. He continued to chat away about the woman. Arclight just wanted to make small talk but found himself drawn into this conversation. He motioned vaguely for Edward to go outside. The crocodile misunderstood the motion so wandered into the police station.

* * *

Edward wandered around the police station for several minutes, lost. Eventually, a young, skinny police officer stopped him.

“Can we … can I … who are you?” he said.

“Where are the exotics at?” Edward said.

“Aren’t you one?” the police officer said. “Aren’t you an exotic?”

“Where are the prisoner exotics at?” Edward asked.

“Oh, they’re at the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Criminal Exotics Holding Facility. That’s up on the north side of town.”

“Oh. So, not here.”

“No. Not here. Who are you?”

“Huh. I’m … Edward.”

“Okay. Are you with Arclight’s Outliers or whatever they call them?”

“I’m with Arclight and Friends.”

“Is it Arclight … I thought the news said Arclight and the Outliers. But, okay. Arclight and Friends. Whatever.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re with them?”

“Yeah. I’m part of them.”

“Okay. All right. Yeah, the detention facility’s not here.”

“Oh, I thought he told me to go in and look for it.”

“Who?”

“Arclight.”

“Oh, is he here?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“He’s out front.”

“If you go down this corridor and to the right, it’ll take you to the lobby.”

“Talking to Mr. Smith.”

“Oh, Sgt. Smith. Oh God. He didn’t ask about Loretta, did he?”

“About Loretta.”

“Okay. He’ll be there a while. You got plenty of time. Take your time. It’s down this corridor, take a right. It’ll take you back to the lobby.”

“Cool. Where’s the bathroom?”

“Right there.”

“I just wanted to know where it was.”

“Oh. Well, there it is. There’s men and women. What are you? You sound a like a man.”

“Man.”

“You’re a guy, right?”

“Yes.”

“All right. Right there.”

He pointed to the men’s room. Edward headed back to the lobby where he found Arclight still listening to Sgt. Smith talk about his wife Loretta.

“Edward!” Arclight said when he saw him, relieved he had an excuse to end the conversation. “What’d you go in the station for?”

“You told me to,” Edward said.

“No!” Arclight said. “I motioned like this. Go with Tinker, he’s already left.”

“Well, this isn’t anything!” Edward said, motioning vaguely as Arclight had.

“It’s call signs, man. We gotta learn the call signs.”

“I’m not militaristic.”

“I’m not either.”

“Then why are we using call signs.”

“‘Cause they look cool!”

“But we have to know what they are before we use them!”

“Okay this means get behind me.”

“This?”

“Yeah, and this, this means go away. Do you see the difference here?”

They looked exactly the same.

“No,” Edward said.

“You’re catching on, that’s good,” Arclight said. “Anyways, we gotta go catch up with Tinker. I’m sorry Smith, I really gotta go. Loretta sounds like a lovely lady though.”

“Oh, she’s love of my life!” Sgt. Smith said.

“All right,” Arclight said, heading for the door.

“Wouldn’t be happy without her,” Sgt. Smith said.

“Uh-huh,” Arclight said.

They left the station as Sgt. Smith started talking about Loretta again.

“Good luck, Mr. Man,” Edward said as he left.

“Uh, you too … uh … yeah,” Sgt. Smith said, looking at Edward quizzically.

They headed up to the detention facility and arrived at about the same time as Tinker. It was a solid-looking, low building surrounded by a chain-link fence with razor wire at the top. Arclight was questioned by the man at the gate and made to show his powers. Several telephone calls were made. Finally, the heroes were allowed into the facility. They passed through metal detectors at the front doors, though Edward set them off when he passed through.

Eventually they met with the warden of the facility, a dour gentleman named Ingram Steele. His black hair was going gray at the temples and he had a thick mustache. He looked very strong and solid.

“So, you want to talk to who?” he asked them.

“Uh … the flame guy and the ice guy,” Arclight said.

“You want to talk to the Flamer and Absolute Zero?” he asked, checking a clipboard.

“Sure do,” Arclight said.

“They’ve been processed,” Warden Steele said. “They’ve been put in separate cells. They both appear to have super strength.”

“Separate cells?” Edward asked.

“Yes, separate cells,” Warden Steele said.

“Good, because they’re gay together!” Arclight said.

“Yeah, we know,” Warden Steele said.

“Okay,” Arclight said. “If they’re ever together I’m just saying ‘Watch out.’ Some homoerotic things might happen.”

“Okay … well thanks for the heads up,” Warden Steele said. “Flamer has actual powers. He’s in a flameproof super cell on level two. Absolute Zero … Absolute Zero doesn’t seem to have any powers. He says he had a gun or something that apparently got lost at the scene.”

“It was destroyed at the scene,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Warden Steele said, noting that fact on the clipboard.

“Arclight destroyed it,” Edward said.

The frigid gun was actually tucked into the back of Arclight’s belt.

“We have facilities,” Warden Steele said. “You can talk to them if you want to.”

“Yeah,” Arclight said.

“That’d be great,” Tinker said.

Warden Steele told them there were facilities allowing visitors to talk to outsiders without actually leaving their cells. When he asked who they wanted to talk to, Arclight said he’d like to talk to Absolute Zero first.

“But with The Flamer, can he use his powers currently?” he asked.

“Yes, he can, but the cell is impervious to flame,” Warden Steele said.

“So then, how do we speak to him?” Arclight asked.

Warden Steele told him the glass installed was a superconductor and impervious to flame. He noted a phone also connected to the cell so the prisoners could talk to people outside of their cells. He further noted the phones were also set up with speakers so the handset was not necessary. The booths were set up directly connected to the cells. He further noted certain civil rights had been removed from people who were super powered to accommodate said powers. For instance, as The Flamer could naturally fly, he was not allowed out of his cell, especially in the yard. He told them the cells for freezing powers and heat powers were on opposite sides of the building. When Edward mentioned a cell for people who could only breathe underwater, the warden told them they had one of those as well.

The warden called for a guard to escort them to the small visiting room connected to Absolute Zero’s cell.

“Edward, what do you think about Tinkerer leading the interrogations?” Arclight asked as they walked there. “Since neither of them know Tinkerer. They might be quite angry with us. But perhaps they would tell things to Tinker they wouldn’t tell us. ‘Cause ya did bite him. So he doesn’t want to talk to you.”

“He froze me,” Edward said.

“Yeah, but you bit him,” Arclight said. “Ice melts, Edward! Bites don’t melt.”

“Ice can burn,” Edward said. “Freezer burn.”

“Freezer burn?”

“Freezer burn. Frostbite. Ice can bite.”

“Ice bites! You bit him back!”

“Yeah!”

“You bit the biter! But yeah, but back to what’s at hand. Tinker, I think you should lead the interrogation.”

“If we point our guns at him …”

“He’s in a cell.”

“He doesn’t know if the guns can go through the glass or not.”

“I don’t think we should shoot people here.”

“Oh.”

“All right, if I’m going to interrogate him, can I have a folder of his basic information?” Tinker asked. “Of everything you guys have?”

“I don’t have a folder for you,” Edward said.

Tinker asked the guard for information on The Flamer and Absolute Zero. The man nodded and left them at the door to the visitor room. He was back in a few minutes with two manila folders filled with still-warm photocopies of various paperwork.

Tinker looked at the one marked Absolute Zero. It noted the man (and the Flamer) were both being held for arson charges with the potential to add attempted murder for the people in the building. It noted Absolute Zero was very strong and fast and he was quite intelligent. His real name was Brian Scott. His suit was armored. He also appeared to be resistant to cold but had no offensive powers. There were a few notes on the frigid gun, as he called it. It could apparently snare people in ice or actually burn them with the cold, or both. There were notes he talked extensively about his frigid gun and claimed there was a patent pending upon it. There was talk of the energy source for the frigid gun as well. It noted he seemed to think his invention ingenious in that what would normally cause damage could be used to merely make the snare more powerful depending upon the setting. There was a note at the bottom he liked to chew ice.

That could be an iron deficiency, Tinker thought.

“So, Edward, he’s going to lead the interrogation,” Arclight said, pointing at Tinker. “But me and you? I’m going to be the bad cop and you be the good cop. You know how that works, right?”

“I’m the good one?” Edward said.

“Do you want to be the bad one?” Arclight said. “It might be fun. Bad cop gets to have all the fun.”

“But we can’t touch him,” Edward said.

“No, but we can threaten him that we might. He doesn’t even have powers.”

“I don’t think it’s going to work.”

“Uh … well, it’s just a game. If you don’t want to play.”

Tinker took off his mask and buttoned up his coat to cover his costume.

“Oh, you be the bad cop, I’ll be the good cop, Doug,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Doug said.

“You gotta growl,” Arclight said.

Doug growled as Pugs are wont to do: not very menacingly.

“Yeah!” Arclight said.

“Get up against the wall, perp!” Doug said.

“Yeah, there it is,” Arclight said.

“I am the law!” Doug said. “I am the law!”

Arclight laughed.

“Before we go in, give me just a few minutes with him,” Tinker said. “Because he might not talk if you guys are there.”

“Right,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Edward said.

“Yeah, probably not,” Arclight said.

“I’m just going to see what I can get out of him first,” Tinker said.

“You wanna - you wanna show him the gun?” Arclight asked.

“Yeah,” Tinker said. “Actually, yeah. Let me take that with me.”

He tucked the gun into his coat and went into the room while Arclight and Edward listened at the door. It was fairly small with a glass window set in the wall opposite the door. It looked right into Absolute Zero’s cell with a desk and chair on either side of it and a phone on the wall next to the glass window. Extra chairs were in back of the room. On the other side of the glass, Absolute Zero sat wearing a prison uniform. He seemed surprised to see the man. He pointed to the phone on the wall and pushed the speaker button on his own phone. Tinker pushed the speaker button as well. He sat down and faced the criminal.

“Who the hell are you?” Absolute Zero asked.

“Uh … my name is … uh … Byron,” Tinker said.

“Okay,” Absolute Zero said.

“I’d just like to talk to you about a few things,” Tinker said.

“Are you my lawyer or something?”

“No. No I am not, but …”

“So you one of the supers?”

“No.”

“Why are you here?”

“I’m just here to talk to you about some of the instruments that you were using. They’re very impressive. I’ve had a chance to look them over. I am just blown away.”

“Are you the police? Have you got my gun then?”

“Yeah, I’ve got your gun right here.”

He pulled out the frigid gun and put it on the desk in front of him.

“Yeah,” Tinker said.

Absolute Zero looked at it as best he could through the glass.

“Okay, it’s patent pending on that,” he finally said.

“Well,” Tinker said.

“Don’t try to sell my technology,” Absolute Zero said.

“No, there’s−” Tinker said.

“‘Cause I will sue you.”

“I mean−”

“Even from jail, I will sue you.”

“There’s no way we could figure this out. It’s just … the technology just seems beyond anything we can comprehend.”

“Hell yeah, it is.”

“I mean, it’s just … I just … I look at this thing and I’m just … how does this thing even work?”

“Okay, you know about absolute cold right? Kelvin scale all the way down to absolute zero?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’ve devised a way to actually use absolute zero, that’s my name, …”

“That’s clever.”

“… to actually create power. It’s essentially … uh … it doesn’t require fuel … it’s literally cold fusion - not like real cold fusion. Basically it has an unlimited power source, it’s not terribly hard to create, but I wouldn’t crack open the actual battery−”

“That’s this part, right?”

“−because it will freeze everything within a quarter of a mile.”

“That’s this?”

Tinker pointed at the light blue glowing part on the top of the weapon.

“No, that’s the capacitor and the amplifier,” Absolute Zero said. “The batteries actually in the back of the gun. The handle doesn’t have anything in it as it doesn’t require a magazine or anything like that. Like I said: my technology. If I find out somebody stole it … I’m not a killer … okay, I could be. I could probably be, but I’ll be very upset if someone steals my technology to make money with. We have an understanding, Byron?”

“Yeah!”

“You with the police? You attached to them or something?”

“I’m more of an admirer of unique artifacts.”

“Well, I made it. I had to after those sons of *****es betrayed me and did this to me … so …”

“Wait, what?”

“**** those guys.”

“What happened?”

* * *

Outside the room, when Arclight gave Doug a high five when he heard the words “unlimited power source.” Doug high-fived him back.

“Let’s destroy the gun,” Edward whispered to Arclight.

“No!” Arclight whispered back. “What the ****?”

“We can use it to get information from him,” Edward whispered.

“That’s bullshit!” Arclight said.

“If it doesn’t need a battery …”

“I’ll bite you, Edward!”

* * *

“They tested their cryogenics on me, okay?” Absolute Zero said.

“Cryogenics, what do you mean?” Tinker asked.

“By locking me into one of the things used to freeze people,” Absolute Zero said. “Freezing people for long periods of time by lowering their body temperature and then later reviving them. I had a good job. And it’s going to come out, it’s going to come out that people got killed. But whatever, they tried to kill me … so … they turned me white. They gave me a big bonus and I used that money to develop the frigid gun and I got my revenge.”

“So, you were a scientist before everything?”

“Yeah. I wouldn’t be doing this now, except for Terry. Terry talked me into it.”

“Terry?”

“Yeah, the Flamer, that’s his name. I hope he’s told somebody. He’s going to be pissed if I’ve given away his ‘secret identity.’ He seems to think we’re in a comic book or something. I don’t know what’s going on. But I love him.”

“So how did you meet Terry? You guys are basically polar opposites.”

“Literally, we’re polar opposites.”

“I know. That’s crazy. But you know what they say about opposites, right?”

“They attract but they don’t make for good, long-lasting relationships.”

“Apparently so. So, this suit that you wear, is that just for looks?”

“It’s armor.”

“Armor.”

“Yeah, Arclight, he’s the one that brought me in and that … Cool Croc or whatever they call that guy.”

“Yeah, that Cool Croc. I haven’t seen much about him.”

“Terry said we needed armor. He’s naturally armored or something, but he didn’t me to get bruised because he likes me un-bruised.”

“He cares about you.”

“Yeah, I love him. He’s a great guy. He’s rich as shit. He’s probably going to end up getting lawyers that will get us both off. But we’ll see. No pun intended.”

“So, why would you use this amazing technology to do what you do? I mean, I know you wanted to get back at those people.”

“I already got back at them.”

“Then what’s your motivation? Why did you do this?”

“Terry said he had a job. He said ‘We can be super villains’ and it’d be fun and exciting. And what the hell am I going to do? Look at me.”

“Have you ever thought about working with the good guys?”

“Meh.”

“Not interesting?”

“Those guys are squares. And some of ‘em, like Arclight … I’ve seen him on the news. He seems like an idiot.”

“Oh … shit.”

* * *

“What?” Arclight whispered outside of the door. “Let’s go in there! He called me an idiot!”

He started making fun of Absolute Zero.

* * *

“And then that Protean fellow who called us out,” Absolute Zero went on. “Terry has all the details. If you want to talk to me about what happened, you’d do better to talk to Terry.”

“Will Terry talk to me?” Tinker asked.

“He’ll do better if he talks to some super hero because he’s going to want to do his super villain shtick.”

“Yeah. He likes to monologue?”

“He loves to monologue.”

“This is all very interesting.”

“All the facts are going to come out about me sooner or later. There’s some dead people who deserved it. They deserved it.”

“What was the cryogenics lab? What was that called? Where did all this happen?”

“Cryo-Ice. You can look it up. Cryo-Ice Incorporated.”

“I feel like I’ve heard about them before.”

“Yeah, I don’t think it exists anymore.”

“Not after you were done with it, right?”

“Somebody had to stop ‘em before they started picking bums off the street to experiment on or something. Right?”

“Yeah. Can’t have that.”

“You take one of your best scientists and you throw him in a chamber and say ‘Hey, we need to test this. We’ll test it on you.’ What kind of messed-up, middle-management bullshit is that?”

“So, did they test on homeless?”

“They tested on me! And I worked for them!”

“But they didn’t move beyond you?”

“No, they didn’t because Cryo-Ice doesn’t exist anymore. And that was me. Yeah, I’ll take the blame for that. **** those guys.”

“Well, this has all been very amazing. Thank you. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Byron.”

“And if there’s anything else, you know, the guys here know how to get in touch with me.”

“Well, that is actually mine.”

Absolute Zero pointed at the gun.

“So if you can hand it over to the warden so he can put it away until I’m out of jail, I’d appreciate it,” he said.

“Yeah, I’ll hand it over,” Tinker said.

“All right,” Absolute Zero said.

Tinker looked at his watch and told him he only had a couple more minutes if there was anything else he wanted to say. He said he’d get the gun to the warden and left the room.

* * *

Tinker exited the visitor room. Arclight asked about the gun and Tinker handed it to him.

“Let’s break it!” Edward said.

“I don’t want to break it,” Arclight said.

“I think that would be a very bad idea,” Tinker said.

“No, we could not break the battery pack like you said,” Edward said. “But we could break it.”

“I don’t know, I think we could use it,” Tinker said.

“I think we could use it too,” Arclight said. “But if you really want to piss the guy off, say you’re going to mass make these and sell ‘em.”

“There’s a power source in here that, if I could tap into it and understand it, it could change everything,” Tinker said.

“For the better … or worse?” Edward asked.

“Who do you think I am?” Tinker said. “For the better.”

“I’m talking about if you can mass produce this energy, other people can too,” Edward said.

“Someone’s already figured it out. It’s only a matter of time before somebody else does.”

“Let’s destroy the patent.”

“You can’t.”

“Let’s go to the patent office.”

“The patent office.”

“For the patent.”

“Do you even know what patents are, Edward?” Arclight asked.

Edward just looked at him. Then he looked at the door to the visitor room.

“Let’s flip him off,” Arclight said.

Edward opened the door, cracking it enough to put his arm in, and flipped the bird into the room. What he didn’t see was that Absolute Zero had left the window and didn’t even see it.

They told the guard they wanted to talk to the Flamer and he led them through the corridors, passing back through the main lobby area of the building. There was a man at the front desk getting sword back.

* * *

Shadow Knight had been incarcerated in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Criminal Exotics Holding Facility for several hours. He had been running down a road at a speed in excess of the speed limit for a residential neighborhood and some police officer with a radar had pulled him over. When he realized he was dealing with an exotic, he panicked, drew his sidearm, and arrested the man, thinking he was probably a villain. He then brought the man to the super jail until they could sort it out. Shadow Knight was given a phone call which he used to call one of his contacts in the government, who saw to it he was released.

As he took the swords, black armor covered him, though he left his head exposed. He was blonde-haired and blue eyed.

That’s when he saw two more exotics and a man in a long coat. Perhaps Charlotte was really hard on exotics. However, he recognized Arclight and Doug the Pug.

* * *

Tinker was talking to Edward about the frigid gun though Edward continued to want him to break it.

“You’re the guys who were on the news,” the man at the desk said in a thick, German accent.

“Duh,” Arclight said, walking by.

“Hi!” Edward said.

“Look at that guy!” Doug said.

The pug went over and sniffed at the man.

“He’s being processed,” Arclight said. “He’s a criminal. Don’t mess with this guy.”

“Criminal?” Shadow Knight said.

“Yeah,” Arclight said. “You’re being given your stuff back. You’re obviously a criminal.”

“Don’t do it again,” Tinker said to the man.

“Or you’ll have Doug the pug to deal with,” Doug said.

“I’m no criminal,” Shadow Knight said.

“How does your suit work?” Tinker said.

“He’s not a criminal,” the heavyset, red-headed woman behind the desk said, her voice deep and gravelly. “There was a mistake.”

“Oh, so he’s not a criminal?” Arclight asked.

“He was in for a speeding violation,” the woman replied. “It got taken a little too far.”

“It’s so strange,” Shadow Knight said. “Speeding for exotics.”

“So, are you, like, really fast?” Arclight asked him. “‘Cause I’m, like, really fast.”

“I bet you I could beat you,” Shadow Knight said.

“I fly really fast,” Arclight said.

“People with flight are so arrogant,” Shadow Knight said.

“Arclight, we can’t … we can’t do this now,” Tinker said. “We need to go talk to Flamer.”

“Yeah, I know,” Arclight said. “This guy is ruining my mood.”

“Don’t be a buzz kill!” Doug said to Shadow Knight.

“You’re being an ass,” Edward said to Arclight.

The other man gasped.

“Edward!” he said.

“Language,” Tinker said.

“Preach it, Edward,” Doug said, flying over to fist bump him.

“Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side,” Arclight said. “No matter what I do.”

“I am on your side,” Doug said to him. “I’m always on your side.”

“He called me an ass!” Arclight said.

Doug flew over and licked Arclight in the face. That made the man laugh.

“So, what is your name?” Shadow Knight asked Edward.

“Edward,” the crocodile replied.

“Edward, what are you doing?” Arclight asked.

“I don’t know,” Edward said.

“That’s your hero name?” Shadow Knight asked.

“Huh?” Edward said. “Oh, I don’t have one.”

“Vicegrip,” Arclight said. “I gave you one.”

“No,” Edward said.

“Wow, you’re … very German,” Tinker said.

“Well, I do come from Germany,” Shadow Knight said.

“It makes sense,” Tinker said.

“Oh God,” Arclight moaned.

“So, Arclight,” Tinker said. “Flamer.”

“So does beer,” Doug said.

“Yeah, we should go,” Arclight said. “It was nice meeting you … uh … whatever your name is.”

“It’s good to see you too,” Shadow Knight said.

“That’s the Shadow Knight,” the woman behind the desk said in her gravelly voice.

“We don’t … uh … we don’t …” Arclight said, walking away.

“I hope to see you in the field,” Shadow Knight called.

“Heinz Ketchup and everything man,” Edward said.

“I don’t,” Arclight muttered.

“Jeeze Arclight, I thought you were a nice guy,” Doug said to him.

“He seems down today,” Shadow Knight said.

“He’s a criminal,” Arclight said to Doug.

“They just said he wasn’t,” Edward said.

“He looks like a criminal,” Arclight said.

“What do I look like?” Edward asked.

“A gator.”

“You look like a crocodile,” Doug said.

“Oh, a crocodile, yeah that’s right,” Arclight said.

“Not an alligator!” Doug said.

“Is it … books can be deceiving?” Shadow Knight called.

“That’s the saying, actually,” Tinker said.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” Edward said.

“Did you say ‘books can be deceiving?’” Doug said. “That’s not a saying.”

“You can’t judge a book by its pages,” Edward said.

“It is,” Arclight said. “It’s a saying.”

“Books can be deceiving?” Doug said again.

“I don’t like anybody that wears all black, all right?” Arclight said. “This guy’s in all black. Like, he’s obviously a villain and we’re going to catch him later.”

He looked at Shadow Knight.

“You watch your back,” he said.

Then he glowed brightly.

“I got my eye on you, Hans,” he said. “And I got my other eye on the rest of crime, ‘cause I got two eyes.”

“And he’s cockeyed,” Doug said.

“Cockeyed?” Arclight said.

“Like a chameleon!” Edward said.

“So I have 50 percent of your attention?” Shadow Knight said.

“Why don’t you change your name to Chameleon Guy?” Doug suggested. “You can look at two things at once.”

“That’s not a good name,” Arclight said. “Guys!”

“Chameleon Guy’s a good name,” Doug said.

“But we really should to interrogate The Flamer now,” Arclight said. “Because, you know, we’re superheroes.”

“Was he the one catching all the buildings on fire?” Shadow Knight asked.

“Yes, he was,” Arclight said. “And we caught him because we’re the greatest superhero team in Charlotte, so …”

“Yeah!” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Arclight said. “Yeah.”

“Aren’t you the only superhero team in Charlotte?” Shadow Knight said.

“It’s ‘cause this town don’t need any more!” Arclight said. “Like you, Hans.”

“His name is the Shadow Knight,” the woman behind the desk said.

“Shadow Knight?” Arclight said.

“I’m done with this,” Tinker said. “I’ll meet you guys there.”

He walked down the hallway with the guard.

“That’s the name he gave, yeah,” the lady behind the desk said.

“How did you catch him?” Shadow Knight asked.

“Can I break the gun?” Edward asked.

“No!” Arclight said. “We’re not breaking the gun!”

“Why?” Edward asked.

“It’s a bad idea,” Arclight said. “I want to use it.”

“Why?” Edward said.

“I want to use the gun,” Arclight said. “I don’t want to break it.”

Tinker came back and there was some discussion on where they were going. Then the man handed Shadow Knight some dog treats from his pocket for him to give to Doug. He did so, tossing them at the dog. Doug flew through the air to catch the treats. Tinker left again.

“How did you manage to take down this Flamer?” Shadow Knight asked.

“We’re really good at this,” Arclight said. He pointed at Edward. “He bit one of ‘em.”

“We took down his partner and then we shot him with the ice,” Edward said. “Yes. We turned their own instruments against them.”

“Interesting,” Shadow Knight said. “Now, who’s his teammate?”

“Uh … some guy with a gun that turns things to ice,” Edward said. “It’s really annoying.”

“Yeah, it was fire and ice,” Arclight said. “So lame.”

“It is kind of lame,” Shadow Knight said. “So, you’re interrogating them. Is there more of them?”

“Yeah … yeah … that’s what we’re doing,” Arclight said. “We’re interrogating them … because it’s our job.”

“Am I taking up too much of your time?” Shadow Knight asked.

“Yeah, maybe,” Arclight said. “Maybe.”

“Not really,” Doug said. “Tinker already left.”

“Oh God!” Arclight said. “Yeah, we should probably go catch up with him.”

“Wait a second,” Edward said. “He wanted to be interrogated by superheroes so we actually probably do need to go.”

“I shall stop taking your time,” Shadow Knight said.

“Yeah and don’t speed again,” Arclight said.

“No promises,” Shadow Knight said.

“Bye,” Edward said.

“You were very pleasant,” Shadow Knight called to him as he walked away. “Edward, is it?”

“Yeah,” Edward said.

Shadow Knight headed out of the building while the others ran down the corridor to catch up with Tinker. They got to him before he got to the interrogation room.

“I don’t like that guy,” Arclight said. “Stop talking to him.”

“He’s not a bad guy,” Edward said.

“He could be,” Arclight said. “He wears all black.”

“So does Batman!” Doug said.

“You don’t know−” Edward started to say.

“Batman has a cool symbol on his shirt,” Arclight said. “And he’s a good guy and he’s rich.”

They reached the visitor room door. Tinker told them the man wanted to talk to a super, according to his file. According to the paperwork he had super strength, could shoot fire from his hands, and could fly. He was also fairly resistant to injury. It also noted he had dangersense. His name was Terry Richards from the prominent Richards Family in Charlotte. They were very, very rich.

The background section of the notes was much more extensive than Absolute Zero’s had been.

It noted Richards’ family died in a car accident when he was a child. He was so traumatized he went to one of their properties and burned down the house. There was a cover up, according to Terry, and he spent a little time in a mental institution after that. He was wild until his college days and apparently he still had control of the Richards’s fortune. According to him, after he met Brian, they decided to embark on “an exciting life of crime (with the possibility of switching over to a super hero or maybe taking over the world or something like that).”

“So, you got all that?” Tinker said.

“Yeah,” Arclight said.

“All right, well, I would go in all showy,” Tinker said. “‘Cause he’s the type, from what I hear, who likes to monologue.”

“Yeah, once you get him talking, he probably won’t stop,” Arclight said.

“Well, if you can get him talking, that would probably be the best.”

“Oh, am I going in?”

“Yeah. This is all you.”

“Oh boy.”

“He wouldn’t know who I am. Or Edward.”

“He knows me,” Edward said.

“Yeah, he’s seen Edward’s face,” Arclight said.

“That’s right,” Edward said.

“Edward, do you want to do good-cop/bad-cop?” Arclight said.

“Nope.”

“Do you want to go in?”

“I’m not good at interrogation.”

“We’re trying to improve these things. Don’t you want to improve?”

“Meh. Maybe some things. Not interrogation skills.”

“Fine, then. I’ll do it.”

“You’re the leader anyway.”

Arclight sighed.

“Of Arclight and Friends,” Edward said with a toothy grin.

“Arclight and Friends,” Arclight sang. “That’s going to be our song.”

“Okay,” Edward said.

Arclight opened the door and headed into the room, followed by Doug, Edward, and Tinker. The room was identical to the one Tinker had been in before and they could see The Flamer sitting in the chair on the other side of the glass. He had an emery board and was working on his nails. He put it away when he saw them, tucking it under the desk.

“So,” he said, standing up and putting his hands on his hips. “Are you here to finish the job?”

“We’re here to ask you a couple of questions,” Arclight said tiredly. “And please, for the love of God, just answer them.”

“So, you’re here to torment me?” The Flamer said.

“Yes,” Arclight said.

“Do your worst! I’ll never spill my guts! Probably.”

“I don’t need your guts. I need information on why you were burning down all those buildings.”

“Oh, is that all?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if I tell you, you have to do something for me.”

“Okay …”

“You have to put a good word in for me at the trial, and note that I was very cooperative. Because you never know when I could just switch over and become a super hero and save the whole city.”

“I’d rather you not. But I’ll write a note that says you were cooperative with our investigation.”

“Fair enough. I know Arclight and Friends can be trusted because you’re heroes.”

“Yes. We are good people.”

“Okay fine.”

The Flamer finally sat back down and crossed his legs.

“So, what do you want to know?” he asked.

“Why were you burning down the buildings?” Arclight asked. “What was the point?”

“We were hired,” The Flamer said.

“Hired?” Arclight said.

“Because someone needed super villains. Because they knew the superheroes in this town would be interfering with anything they tried to do. Hired by a nefarious man. Very nefarious.”

“What’s his name? Do you know his name?”

“Oh! You can’t guess? You don’t know?”

“I don’t know.”

“I thought the vaunted Arclight was a detective, was the dark knight of detective-ing.”

“No, I’m not that. I’m trying to clean this city but I just can’t seem to figure out the details of all of these villains. There’s so many of you.”

“Dr. Murder?” Edward said.

“What?” The Flamer said. “No! That guy is awful!”

“Oh,” Edward said.

“He’s, like, killing people,” The Flamer said.

“When’d you get here?” Arclight asked Edward.

He was surprised to see Tinker in the room too, standing in the back.

“Hello,” Arclight said to him. “Okay. All right.”

“That was my guess,” Edward said.

“It’s the little guy!” The Flamer said, pointing at Edward. “Super Cool Croc! What the hell’s your name?”

“Huh?” Edward said.

The Flamer snapped his fingers while trying to remember.

“Tear jerk?” he guessed. “Tearjerker? Um … hmmm. It’s not Meatwad, that’s from a television show.”

“All right,” Edward said.

“No, they said you were several different names,” The Flamer said. “I can’t remember which one it was.”

“Vicegrip,” Arclight said.

“That’s it!” The Flamer said. “Vicegrip!”

“Vicegrip,” Arclight said again.

The Flamer composed himself again.

“Yes, Vicegrip,” he said to the crocodile. “I saw you bite my boyfriend. Are you here to torture me as well?”

“No,” Edward said.

“Aw,” The Flamer said.

“Who’s the nefarious man?” Arclight asked.

“I thought you knew,” The Flamer said.

“No,” Arclight said. “We don’t know. Anybody.”

“Who was that guy that attacked you?” Edward said. “Ordnance.”

“No, it’s not him,” The Flamer said. “He’s not a super.”

“The Gentleman,” Edward said.

“No, wait,” The Flamer said. “He’s not a super. He’s the guy that would get the most if they burned down. It’s an insurance thing.”

“Oh, the guy who owned the buildings!” Edward said.

“And that is …?” The Flamer said.

“And the bars,” Arclight said. “And the bars too.”

“And that is …?” The Flamer said again.

“Tommy McElroy?” Edward said.

The Flamer gasped.

“How did you know?” he said.

“Oh … well … we were … just off the top of my head, man,” Edward said.

“I thought it was him,” Arclight said. “I thought it was him.”

“I see you are the real brains behind this outfit,” The Flamer said to Edward.

“Uh, no,” Edward said.

“I find that so attractive,” The Flamer said.

“I’m not a human being,” Edward said.

“We approached him and we interrogated him and he was just so … off-putting,” Arclight said. “But I knew it was him. I knew he had to have done something.”

“Well, I assume he was doing it either for the insurance or to get back at some enemies or something,” The Flamer said.

“And why would you associate yourself with him?” Arclight asked. “That’s such …”

“Well, we were in the bar one night and I was showing off my powers for some of the other eligible men there because Brian was in a tiff, he didn’t want to go out that night, so …” The Flamer said. “I just … you know how you do.”

“Yeah.”

“So, he saw it and he approached me and he said ‘I could use someone with your powers.’ And I said ‘Well, as long as my boyfriend can come along’ and he didn’t mind, said that was fine. So, he gave me a list of places to hit, to burn down. Like I said, it’s either an insurance scam thing or maybe he was after an enemy. Maybe he was trying to kill his enemies. I don’t know. He gave me the addresses and so we … flame on!”

“That’s such grunt-level work though.”

“Well, you gotta start somewhere. I wanted to make a name for myself. And then there was always the option of switching sides.”

“It’s not really an option,” Tinker said.

“But, don’t tell him I told you,” The Flamer said.

“We won’t say you did, but …” Arclight said.

“Good, because you figured it out,” The Flamer said. “Vicegrip figured it out. He must be some kind of secret super detective, because I didn’t say it.”

“Good job, Vicegrip,” Arclight said.

“And it could do a lot of damage to my rep,” The Flamer said. “Or … maybe that’s why I become a superhero …”

Arclight sighed again.

“The underdog villain turned superhero’s a pretty cool story,” he said.

“Yeah,” The Flamer said. “That’s what I’m thinking about right now. You never know. You never know. He’s also the one that gave us the robots.”

“Oh, man, the robots,” Arclight said.

“Wait, he gave you robots?” Edward said.

“He said we could use them if we got into an emergency with those super freaks or whatever,” The Flamer said. “He was really − he did not like the superheroes in this town.”

“How did he get a hold of robots?” Arclight said.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” The Flamer said. “He just gave me the ones that − we had those three that Protean blew up. He gave ‘em to us. He said ‘Just in case.’ I said ‘Okay.’”

“Didn’t that other guy have robots just like them?” Edward asked. “Wane?”

Arclight nodded.

“We gotta find out where these robots are coming from,” he said.

“Now we’ve gotta do that,” Edward said.

“I don’t understand why a guy who has robots would be burning down buildings for insurance scam anyways,” Arclight said.

“Extra money?” Edward said. “I mean, maybe he owed money on the robots.”

“Maybe,” Arclight said. “We need to go talk to Tommy.”

“Should we let the police in?” Edward said.

“No,” Arclight said. “It’s too risky right now.”

“The media!” The Flamer said. “You should call the media. Make them meet you there.”

“I do like the media,” Arclight said.

“Arclight’s very high profile,” The Flamer said. “I think you do a wonderful job, by the way, the way you talk to the media is just amazing!”

“For sure,” Arclight said.

“I’ve got to find a way to talk to the media like that,” The Flamer said. He looked at Arclight. “Oh, you’re beautiful, by the way. I just thought I’d tell you.”

“And this interview’s over,” Tinker said.

“And who is that?” The Flamer asked, looking at Tinker. He made a little claw and scratched it towards the man. “Rawr! Arclight! Who’s your friend?”

“I don’t know if he wants to be introduced,” Arclight said.

“Rawr!” The Flamer said again.

“I’m going,” Tinker said, uncomfortable. “Fine.”

He walked out the door.

“Oh, he’s Homophobe Man,” The Flamer said. “I see. Okay, fine. Nice super power!”

“Thank you for your time,” Arclight said. “I’ll tell them you were cooperative.”

“Thank you!” The Flamer said.

“I really don’t think you’re a villain and I don’t think you should be,” Arclight said. “You or Brian. I think you guys just got caught up in the wrong act.”

“Well, thank you,” The Flamer said sincerely. “Thank you.”

“See Edward,” Arclight said.

“Oh,” The Flamer said. “I like that name.”

“I can be nice,” Arclight said to Edward.

“Well, good luck,” The Flamer said. “Bye!”

He waved.

“I don’t mind being nice to him,” Edward said as they were leaving. “Ice guy can suck it.”

“Hey now!” The Flamer said. “Stop!”

“But he does suck it,” Arclight quipped.

“Well, that is true,” The Flamer said.

They left on that note.

They found Tinker in the hallway with the guard, who’d asked him not to smoke when he had taken out a cigarette. The man apologized but noted it was state law.

“Let’s go ****ing get Tommy,” Arclight said. “I’m so mad that I knew it was him and he ****ing tricked me.”

“Let’s do it,” Edward said. “And beat him up.”

“So, Tommy owns …” Tinker said.

“He owns some bars around town,” Arclight said. “He owns these apartments that were being burned down. And I was pretty sure it was him and we went and talked to him and he kicked us out because we started a fight, sort of.”

“Let’s immediately tie him down,” Edward said.

“Let’s find out where Tommy is and let’s just ****ing corner him,” Arclight said. “We’re going off the books. I don’t usually do this.”

He took out the list he’d made of all of Tommy McElroy’s properties. There were four bars and two remaining apartment buildings. It was about 10:30 p.m. and Arclight guessed he was probably either at home or at one of his bars.

“Too bad he owns four bars,” Edward said.

“Well there’s three of us,” Arclight said. “We − we could try−”

“Three?” Doug said.

“Yeah, I’m not sending you alone, though,” Arclight said.

“Just to find out where he is?” Doug said. “I can go.”

“No,” Arclight said. “Doug, no.”

“C’mon!” Doug said. “Send me coach!”

“C’mon,” Edward said. “Recon.”

“If only we had, like, somebody else,” Arclight said.

“What about that dude that you got pissed off at?” Doug asked.

“I just … uh … I don’t … I mean he’s … apparently he’s fast,” Arclight said. “But I don’t think we can trust him. I don’t like him.”

“Because he’s German?” Tinker asked.

“I’m not … I’m not …” Arclight said.

“Are you Jewish, Arclight?” Doug asked.

“No,” Arclight said. “Maybe.”

“Then why do you hate the Germans?” Doug asked.

“I think Hanukah’s really cool,” Arclight said. “Okay, alright, yeah. Let’s page the others. Let’s see if anybody’s ****ing around.”

They paged everyone else but didn’t get any replies.

“Is everybody asleep or something?” Edward asked.

“Huh?” Arclight said.

“Is everybody asleep or something,” Edward said again.

“I don’t know,” Arclight said.

“It seems very fickle.”

“What a great superhero team we have. No one ever responds. I guess it’s just us.”

Arclight gave out the addresses and noted he and Doug would go to the furthest ones because they could fly. Tinker asked what McElroy looked like and Edward suggested going to his house but Arclight said they should try the bars first.

“He’s like this big guy,” Arclight said to Tinker.

“Okay,” Tinker said.

“With this, just, stupid-ass smile,” Arclight said. “He’s got, like, one of those tiny goatees and a mustache that doesn’t connect to it.”

“Like a thin strip?” Tinker said.

“Ayuh,” Arclight said. “He wears glasses and he’s just, he’s just a terrible human being.”

“I hate it when they’re terrible and they smile all the time,” Tinker said.

“And he smells like bacon and sweat and aftershave!” Doug said.

“Yeah, he smells horrible,” Arclight said.

“The bacon smelled good,” Doug said.

“And he’s got short, like, wavy hair and he’s all, like, red in the face because he’s flustered or something,” Arclight said.

“I think he eats a lot of bacon,” Doug said. “He eats a lot of bacon.”

“Yeah, if you see that guy, just take him down,” Arclight said. “We’re going behind the cops this time because, this guy, we can’t let him get away. We’re going to have to interrogate him and figure out about the robots.”

He pulled up the map on his phone and planned on who would go where. The closest bar was the Chow Down Bar and Grill on Hamilton Street. The others were further south and west. Arclight decided Edward would go to the Chow Down Bar and Grill because it was the closest and he didn’t have a vehicle. Tinker was going to the Rusty Tap Bar and Grill at the Shops at Freedom. Chappy’s Bar and Grill was also south and Arclight told Doug to go there. Finally, there was a Drunk Leprechaun Bar and Grill; Arclight planned to visit that one.

“Try not to engage Tommy until we get can back to whoever finds him,” Arclight said. “But if you can’t avoid it, don’t let him get away.”

He made sure Doug knew where he was going. The pug gave him a paw up. As he had no opposable thumbs, he was unable to give a thumbs up.

“Don’t scare people by talking to them, too,” Arclight said. “Because …”

“Can I break glass?” Doug asked.

“Sure,” Arclight said.

“Yes!” Doug said and flew away.

They split up.

* * * ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1951-Superworld-Fire-and-Ice-Session-Three-Part-1-Interrogating-Super-Villains
Superworld: Fire and Ice Session Three Part 2 - Robots Attack! http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1950-Superworld-Fire-and-Ice-Session-Three-Part-2-Robots-Attack! Fri, 11 Sep 2015 23:39:36 GMT * * * People were having a good time at Chappy’s Bar and Grill when something smashed through the glass of one of the... * * *

People were having a good time at Chappy’s Bar and Grill when something smashed through the glass of one of the doors and flew into the room. The small, pug-shaped missile flew around the room at breakneck speed.

“Where’s Tommy McElroy!?!” it screamed. “Where’s Tommy McElroy!?! Where is he!?!”

It flew into the kitchen, panicking the staff, and sent people scurrying from the room. He crashed through the door to the office in the back.

“Where is he!?!” he screamed.

“He’s not here!” people shrieked back. “He’s not here!”

“Fine!” Doug the Pug shouted. “If he comes, you tell him Arclight’s looking for him!”

He flew out of the place, smashing through the glass of the other double door.

* * *

Tinker drove his motorcycle to the Rusty Tap Bar and Grill at the Shops at Freedom. He could see Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios across the parking lot, a place he’d met the others on one occasion. He took off his mask and buttoned up his coat to cover his costume, going in and sitting at the bar.

“Did you hear about Chappy’s?” one of the bartenders said to another as he hung up the phone. “Some kind of crazy guy busted in. It was a midget or something.”

“****ing Doug,” Tinker muttered to himself.

“Yes sir, can I help you?” one of the bartenders said. “What you drinking tonight?”

“Uh … not drinking,” Tinker said. “I have an interview with Tommy.”

“With … Tommy McElroy?” the bartender said.

“Yes,” Tinker said.

“Is he working?” the bartender said.

“I don’t know,” the second bartender said.

“Well go ****ing look!” the first bartender said.

“Oh, yeah yeah yeah,” the second bartender said, scampering away.

He returned a couple of minutes later and talked to the first bartender. That man returned to Tinker.

“I’m sorry sir, but he’s not here,” the man said. “Did he say he was going to meet you here?”

“Maybe I have the wrong bar,” Tinker said. “Do you know where he might be?”

“Uh … I don’t know,” the man said. “Let me check.” He turned to the second bartender. “You’re in charge. Don’t **** it up again.”

He went back to the office.

* * *

The Drunk Leprechaun Bar and Grill had a dirt parking lot. It was a stand-alone building that had been converted from another building, maybe a Taco Bell or a McDonalds. It had been substantially fixed up and the interior was actually pretty nice with a large bar, tables, and several people enjoying the place.

The bartender was just getting off the phone and putting it back into the cradle as Arclight entered in full costume. She was a pretty young woman with red hair that rolled off her shoulders.

“Is that Arclight?” he heard a woman say.

“No,” the man at her table replied. “That’s just some ****ing cosplayer or some bullshit.”

Arclight glowed when he heard it. That drew more attention.

“Oh shit,” someone said. “That’s Arclight!”

It caused a rumble of conversation in the room. People stared.

I’m not a ****ing cosplayer, he thought.

He went to the bar and sat down.

“Yes sir, can I help … oh!” she said. “It’s Arclight. Hey.”

“S’up, baby,” Arclight said.

“Wow, you want a beer?” the woman replied.

“Yeah,” he said.

She poured him a draft beer.

“It’s on the house,” she said.

“How are you doing today?” he said.

“My grandmother thinks you are amazing,” she said

“Well, I think you’re amazing,” he said.

“Oh, thank you!” she said, smiling.

She went back to helping other customers but came back to him frequently.

“So, I actually came here to see Tommy,” Arclight said one of the times she came over. “Is Tommy here?”

“No,” she said with a laugh. “Tommy never comes here.”

“Well, I mean I came here to see him after you,” Arclight said. “I came here for you.”

“Aw, thank you,” she said. “No, he never comes here. He usually hangs out at the Chow Down. That’s, like, his base of operations or some bullshit.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah. Are you a friend of his?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Oh.”

“Well, I mean … I don’t like him.”

She had sounded disappointed and went to help someone else with their drink. She returned a couple of minutes later.

“Here you go,” he said. “This is your tip.”

He put down a $20 bill.

“And this is for you and your grandma,” he said, putting down two signed photographs of himself.

“Nice, thanks,” she said. “Hey, why don’t you put your phone number on that one?”

He grinned and did so. She tucked the photos away.

“And you tell Tommy that I need to talk to him,” he said. “Because he is in some serious shit.”

“Good,” she said. “You gonna arrest him?”

“Maybe,” he said.

“Are you gonna beat him up?” she said.

“I hope so.”

“Can I watch?”

“I’ll take photos.”

“Thank you. Yes!”

“And I’ll come back to see you.”

She reached over and touched his arm, smiling at him.

“I look forward to it,” she said. “To everything.”

“I look forward to you calling me,” he said.

She gave him a come-hither look.

“You have a nice night,” he said.

He glowed as he walked out of the bar.

Outside, he paged everyone: “Tommy not at Drunk Leprechaun.”

* * *

Edward arrived at the Chow Down Bar and Grill, walking right in the front door. The place had a bar and lots of tables. There were quite a few people there, eating and drinking. He glanced at the bar and saw a door in the back where people came out with food on trays. He headed for the kitchen but then saw a fat, blonde man with a mustache and goatee standing in the doorway next to the bar, watching the place nervously. As soon as he saw Edward, he gasped.

“Shit!” he cried out.

He ran into the office and slammed the door shut. Edward heard the man yelling something. Suddenly, several parts of the walls started to break in patterns that seemed to indicate someone was behind them. The conversations in the room suddenly went dead quiet. All that could be heard was tinny music playing over the speakers.

Edward ran across the room towards the door by the bar, pulling his laser rifle from his back. Out of the wall ahead of him and to his right burst one of the robots like the ones they’d dealt with before. It rose it’s electric rifle up as Edward rushed the thing. It stood a little over five feet tall though the spines on the shoulders actually made it over six feet tall.

There were five more coming out of the walls. People in the place jumped up from their tables, screaming in panic. Edward’s pager went off just at that moment. He ignored it. Instead, he turned and fired at the door McElroy had into and blasted the lock off it.

“Oh God!” screaming came from within. “Oh God!”

“Enemy detected,” the robot in front of him said out loud.

It quickly lowered its electric rifle until it pointed at Edward’s forehead and pulled the trigger. There was a click and the rifle crackled with electricity.

“Malfunction!” the rifle cried. “Malfunction! Malfunction!”

The robot turned the rifle and began to try to fix the malfunction as the other robots broke completely out of the walls. Edward fled to the office, crashing into the door.

“Oh God, save me!” McElroy shrieked like a woman. “Kill it! Kill it!”

He was crouched behind the desk at the far end of the narrow office.

“Oh God!” he screamed. “Help! Oh God!”

Edward quickly flipped open his communicator and sent a group page.

“Tom and robots here,” it read.

Then he rushed McElroy as he clapped the laser rifle onto his back.

* * *

As soon as Arclight got the page, he took to the air. En route, he called the police on his cell phone, telling them the heroes needed to handle it and they needed to be there for back-up. The dispatcher said she would send police to the area.

* * *

“Go away!” McElroy shrieked. “Leave me alone!”

Outside, the robots were obviously coming towards the office door. People screamed and fled from the place. There were sounds of people stumbling and falling to the ground as well. Edward grabbed McElroy.

“No, leave me alone!” McElroy cried.

Edward moved behind him, still holding onto him.

“Better call off those robots, big boy!” he said.

A robot walked into the office and aimed its electric rifle at the two.

“No!” McElroy screamed. “Don’t shoot me! No! Let me go!”

The robot hesitated and Edward put his jaws around McElroy’s neck. Drool started to drip from his mouth.

“Lemme go!” McElroy screamed. “Lemme go!”

“You better call ‘em off, man,” Edward said.

“Don’t shoot!” McElroy screamed. “Don’t shoot!”

“I can take shots from them,” Edward said. “I don’t know about you.”

“Take hostages!” McElroy screamed. “Take hostages!”

Edward increased his grip on McElroy’s neck with his jaws as the robot beeped. More screams came from outside.

“Hostages have been secured,” the robot said.

McElroy grunted but was unable to talk due to the pressure Edward had placed upon his neck and the crocodile could actually feel the man’s heartbeat through his teeth. It was beating very quickly.

* * *

Tinker had gotten the page and left the Rusty Tap as quickly as he could, mounting up on his motorcycle and heading east towards the Chow Down Bar and Grill.

* * *

“We need four units to the Chow Down Bar and Grill, 1106 Hamilton Avenue,” the scanner said. “There’s a situation. Arclight needs back-up.”

Shadow Knight headed out and ran towards the area as quickly as he could. He knew he’d be there soon thanks to his super speed.

Wonder how he’ll take it when I help him out? he thought. This should improve our relationship.

* * *

The robot continued to point the electric rifle at Edward’s eyes. McElroy continued to grunt.

“I don’t know how many shots you’ve taken from these, but I’ve taken a few of them,” Edward said.

“Awaiting further orders,” the robot said.

That’s what I was waiting to hear, Edward thought.

“If further orders are not received within one minute, one hostage will be killed,” the robot said. “Please advise. Countdown begins now.”

Edward gripped McElroy harder as the robot started counting down from 60. The man grunted but could not talk.

“You’re cornering a wild animal,” Edward said. “That’s not advisable.”

McElroy grunted. When the count reached 30 seconds, Edward started releasing McElroy’s throat, just a little, but not enough for him to talk. McElroy grunted. Edward pulled McElroy more towards him and then released him enough to say something.

“Fifteen seconds,” the robot said.

“Lemme go,” McElroy muttered. “Or their deaths will be on your hands.”

“Ten, nine,” the robot said.

“Better call them off,” Edward said.

“Eight, seven,” the robot said.

“Let me go!” McElroy said.

“Six, five, four,” the robot said.

“Oh shit,” Edward said.

“Two, one,” the robot said.

“Robots!” McElroy said. “If you don’t receive word for me in one minute, kill all the hostages!”

Edward tightened his grip on the man’s throat once again.

“Countdown reset,” the robot said. “Fifty-nine, fifty-eight, …”

As the robot continued counting down, Edward reached for his wrist communicator and called Arclight.

“Yeah,” Arclight said when he picked up. “Yeah, I’m on my way.”

“How close?” Edward said.

“Pretty close,” Arclight said.

“Less than 30 seconds?” Edward said.

“Twenty-nine, twenty-eight, …” the robot continued to count down.

“What’s going on?” Arclight said.

“We got a hostage situation!” Edward said. “I can’t save anybody!”

“Yeah,” Arclight said. “Okay. Yeah yeah yeah.”

He hung up as the robot continued to count down and McElroy grunted and choked. He appeared to be trying to say something. Edward released him, drew his rifle, and put it at the man’s knee.

“Just get out!” McElroy said. “Just get out of here!”

“You have ten seconds,” Edward said.

“Just get out of here and … and they won’t be hurt,” McElroy said. “I’ll let all the hostages go if you get out.”

The robot reached 10 seconds in the countdown.

“You have five seconds to call them off,” Edward said.

“Spanish … Mexican standoff,” McElroy grunted. “Leave and you can take the hostages with you. But you’ve got to leave me. Hold up, robots, one minute!”

“Countdown reset,” the robot said and started to count down again.

“You have 55 seconds to call off your robots,” Edward said.

“Listen hero,” McElroy said, and coughed. “You can get out of here with the hostages, but you’re not taking me with you.”

Edward could smell urine. The man had pissed his pants.

“But you can get out and take the hostages with you,” McElroy said.

“Do you see me wearing a cape?” Edward asked.

“Nobody wears capes!” McElroy said. “That’s comic book shit! If you don’t care about the hostages … that’s fine by me. You blow my knee off, then I’ll have ‘em kill all of them. Cause I can do that with a word.”

Edward clamped down again. He accessed his suit through his communicator and took the recording he made of McElroy and replayed it.

“Hold up, robots. One minute,” he said, mimicking McElroy’s voice.

“Countdown Reset,” the robot said and started counting down again.

McElroy tried to break free of the grip Edward had on him without any luck. After about 30 seconds, he tried again.

“Don’t kill hostages yet,” he said, mimicking McElroy’s voice again.

The robot beeped again.

“Error,” it said. “False audio. Please repeat.”

Edward tried again.

“Don’t kill the hostages yet,” he said this time.

“Error,” the robot said. “False audio. Hostages will be immediately killed unless further orders are received. In five, four, three, two, …”

Edward released McElroy’s neck.

“Stop!” McElroy said. “Wait. One minute.”

The robot started counting down from 60 again.

“You can take the hostages and you can go,” McElroy coughed. “Just leave me alone.”

Edward pulled the man to towards the door.

“Huh-uh,” McElroy said. “You’re leaving me here. Let me go. You can go and the hostages can go. But I’m staying here.”

Edward clamped down on his neck again. Then he dragged McElroy out of the office and towards the front door. The man tried to talk but couldn’t. The robot kept counting down. He saw two of the robots had a single customer held in their arms. Another robot had a bartender by the arm; that man had a phone handset in his hand. Another robot had two children held hostage. The last robot had a woman and her baby.

Edward set his foot on McElroy’s back and kicked him to the ground. The man grunted.

“One minute more!” McElroy yelled.

“He said the hostages can go!” Edward called out.

The robot that followed them out of the office started counting down from 60 again.

“You go!” McElroy said to Edward. “You go and you take the hostages! Go over to the door! Go to the door! Right now! Robots, be ready. Robots, be ready.”

McElroy rolled over onto his back.

“I’ve let you go,” Edward said to him. “Tell them to let them go.”

“No,” McElroy said. “You go first and I’ll send the hostages out after.”

“That’s not what you said,” Edward said.

“That’s what I’m saying now!” McElroy said.

The robot continued to count down.

“You go to the door,” McElroy said. “And you can have the hostages. I’ll let them meet you at the door.”

“Then they move at the same time,” Edward said.

“Go to the door and then they move to you,” McElroy said.

Edward thought about it a moment.

“Just go!” McElroy said. “Get out of here!”

Edward could hear sirens in the distance. He put his gun up against McElroy’s head.

“I’m going to tell them to kill the baby first, man,” McElroy said, sweating. “You can’t win, man. You can’t win this. And if you kill me, they’ll kill all the hostages. If he kills me, kill all the hostages!”

Edward thought.

“Go on!” McElroy said. “Go. Go on, superhero. Go on.”

Edward grabbed McElroy roughly by the shoulder and rolled him onto his belly. He manipulated a switch that would boost the power to the weapon and it started to hum ominously. He put the rifle on his back.

“The ****!?!” McElroy said.

“That’s set to explode,” Edward said. “On my command.”

“If I die the hostages die!” McElroy said very loudly.

“I’m backing out,” Edward said. “If the hostages don’t immediately follow me …”

“How long I got?” McElroy said.

“You said as soon as I leave, the hostages are done,” Edward said.

“And then it explodes on my back?” McElroy said.

“No, it’s all completely on my command,” Edward said, flipping open his communicator. “I can completely control it.”

“Okay, there’s cameras recording this shit!” McElroy said, pointing vaguely above him.

“I been able to get here from Australia without getting caught,” Edward said.

“Why the hell should I let them go if you’re just going to murder me, you dick?” McElroy said.

“Why the hell should I leave if you’re just going to kill everybody?”

“I’m not! I’m letting them go once you’re gone. That’s what I said.”

“All right. We’ll see how that goes.”

Edward walked towards the door. McElroy looked nervous and confused. Then he rolled over so the laser rifle fell from his back. He crawled behind the bar.

“Send the hostages to that guy!” he shouted.

All of the robots opened up their arms and released their hostages.

“Cover him!” McElroy shouted.

All of the robots put their rifles to their shoulders and aimed at Edward. The hostages ran towards Edward and crashed out of the doors into the darkness of the parking lot. The woman with the baby was crying, as was the girl.

“This is so cool,” the little boy said as he passed Edward.

Edward pointed outside and they ran by him. The little boy was the last one.

“This is so cool!” the little boy, the last one out, said. Then to Edward: “You are so cool!”

He tried to hug the crocodile and then walked out. Edward thought he heard McElroy hacking behind the bar.

“Has he gone?” McElroy called.

“Subject is still in doorway,” one of the robots said.

“Get out or they’ll shoot you!” McElroy screamed. “You got five seconds!”

Then Edward’s laser rifle powered back down to its normal state.

“What the ****!?!” McElroy yelled. “That wasn’t a bomb at all, was it, you son of a ****!”

Edward could hear sirens and see flashing police lights approaching down the street. McElroy peeked over the bar.

“Get out!” he shrieked. “Get out!”

Edward backed out and let the door close behind him. Three police cars pulled into the parking lot even as many of the customers got into their cars and drove away. The parents of the two children held hostage grabbed up their kids and cried. Then Arclight flew down and landed in the parking lot, the Shadow Knight ran up on black raven wings, and Tinker drove up on his motorcycle following the police.

The police started moving people away from the building and placed their cars in a defensive line. One of them asked what was going on.

“Surround the−” Edward started to say.

“Arclight!” another officer said. “It’s Arclight!”

“Did you call the cops?” another officer said.

“What’s going on?” a third said.

“Tommy’s here with robots,” Arclight said.

“Robots?” the first police officer said. “Tommy who? What are you talking about?”

“Tell them to surround the building,” Edward said. “We need to make sure no one gets out of here.”

Arclight started to give the order but two policemen were already heading towards the back of the Chow Down.

“Edward, where’s Tommy?” Arclight said.

“He’s inside,” Edward said. “There’s six robots.”

“So, the robots have guns?” Arclight said.

“Yes,” Edward said. “And my gun.”

“And your gun?” Arclight said. “What happened to your gun?”

“I used it as a bluff,” Edward said.

Shadow Knight walked over to them. He had a helmet on now.

“What are you doing here, Hans?” Arclight asked.

“What’s the situation?” the voice came back.

It sounded very gravelly and harsh.

“One dude in there, six robots,” Edward said.

“And we’re not going to kill the one guy because we need information from him,” Arclight said.

“He’s also, like, out of breath,” Edward said. “I kind of choked him for, like, three minutes.”

“Who’s in there?” one of the officers said. “What’s going on?”

“Tommy McElroy,” Edward said.

“He’s behind the apartment fires,” Arclight said.

Arclight handed off the frigid gun to Edward.

“How fast are you?” Tinker asked Shadow Knight.

“Fast enough,” the man replied.

“We don’t need to involve this guy,” Arclight said.

“I can go in and make it so they can’t see, though I’ll be able to see everything indoors,” Shadow Knight said.

“I think this might be too dangerous for you,” Arclight said.

Edward, meanwhile, checked the dial to make sure it was turned o the side that did damage as opposed to encasing things in ice.

“This can freeze things to where they break really easily,” Edward said.

“Well, maybe not really easily,” Arclight said. “I punched it as hard as I could.”

Shadow Knight drew one of his swords.

“Hey, Arclight,” Edward said. “Me and you run in, make a commotion.”

“Like always,” Arclight said.

“I give the freeze gun to fast man over there,” Edward said. “To freeze every robot. That gun−”

“Can we not disable them quicker?” Shadow Knight said.

“That is the quickest way I can think of,” Edward said.

“Would one of you want to do that?” Shadow Knight said. “I could try to cut them.”

“They’re made of metal,” Edward said. “I would imagine …”

“I’m strong,” Shadow Knight said.

“… freezing them …” Edward said.

“I still think this is too dangerous for him,” Arclight said, looking at Shadow Knight.

“I will,” Shadow Knight said, taking the frigid gun with his off hand.

“I figure that’s out best option,” Edward said.

“Let’s me and you go start a commotion then,” Arclight said. “But now you don’t have a gun.”

“I don’t,” Edward said.

Arclight asked one of the police officers for a shotgun for Edward but the man refused him.

“All right, I’m going to go put my life on the line, then,” Edward said.

He headed for the building while Arclight looked for Sgt. Smith. The man wasn’t there.

“Are we ready?” Shadow Knight said.

“I think so,” Arclight said. “Tinker?”

“I have no idea what’s going on,” Tinker said. “Robots and this guy?”

“We’re going to run in and be stupid,” Arclight said.

“Oh God,” Tinker said.

“And this guy’s going to show us what he can do, right?” Arclight said, gesturing at Shadow Knight.

“Can you take shot from electricity?” Edward asked Tinker.

It was very dark in the bar. It looked like most of the lights in there had been turned off. With the tinted windows, it was almost impossible to see into the building.

“Should I break the windows?” Shadow Knight said.

“I honestly thought my idea was really good,” Edward said, walking back to the others.

One of the two front doors opened as they talked and a robot stood there.

“I want transportation!” McElroy shouted from inside. “I want a plane out of the country!”

The Shadow Knight ran forward with amazing speed and fired the frigid gun at the robot in the doorway at point blank range. He still missed, blasting the neon “Chow Down Bar and Grill” sign and covered it with frost. The glass shattered and fell to the ground in front of the bar.

“Oh my God!” McElroy screamed from inside.

Arclight flew towards the robot and slammed both of his fists into it, damaging it but not destroying it.

“Alert! Alert!” the robot said. “Aggressive Action!”

It started to raise its electric rifle and Shadow Knight fired the frigid gun again. It roared and this time the blast struck the robot in the chest. Frost formed on the robot from the chest over its head and down to its feet, completely covering it. The lights on the robot’s head went out.

“Break it!” Edward yelled.

Shadow Knight swung his sword, neatly cutting through the robot. The top half slid off the bottom half and crashed to the sidewalk. It landed face-first, the entire top of the thing shattering like glass, including the frost-covered electric gun.

“Maybe I was wrong about you,” Arclight said.

Tinker, over by the police cars, aimed his laser pistol and shot one of the windows, hoping to shatter the glass. His laser pistol didn’t have a visible beam. It hummed when he pulled the trigger and a small hole was burned in one of the pieces of glass.

“God damn it!” Tinker said.

“Keep doing that!” Edward said to Shadow Knight.

The door had closed part of the way, bumping into the legs of the robot that still stood there without a body.

“Oh God!” McElroy screamed from inside again.

Little *****, Arclight thought. We’re coming for you. You’re going to die tonight, Tommy.

Edward ran up to the front of the building next to Shadow Knight.

“I’m a little bit better shot than you,” Edward said.

He grabbed the frigid gun from Shadow Knight, who just let it go.

Arclight started glowing.

“Target sighted!” the robots said. “Destroy! Destroy! Destroy!”

Arclight saw McElroy in the room directly ahead of him and flew right at the man, trying to grapple him but merely knocking him down even as the robots fired at the doorway. Arclight overshot and landed on the floor behind him as McElroy screamed. The lightning that blasted from the doorway tore away a good portion of the open door and one of the three blasts actually hit Shadow Knight but he wasn’t injured by it. Small explosions of darkness seemed to come off the man.

He moved into the building and leveled his sword into the room. Darkness came off it and filled a wide area in a dome of the stuff.

“Engage radar,” one of the robots said.

There was a bleeping noise.

“Ineffective. Destroy everything in the area!” one of the robots said. “Fire at will!”

“Did I hit anything!?!” Tinker called.

He ran towards the building.

Most of the interior of the bar was filled with a terrible blackness. It caught both Arclight and McElroy. McElroy screamed and crashed into Arclight, trying to get away. Edward crashed into the other door and flung it open, running into an area where there was no darkness. He spotted a robot behind the bar and fired the frigid gun at it, hitting the thing in the chest. A good portion of the robot was covered in frost but the robot didn’t shut down. It turned towards him and raised his gun, firing at Edward. The blast missed Edward and blasted the wall behind him, blowing out a large hole.

Danger. Electrical danger,” his suit told him. “Danger. Electrical danger.”

Arclight suddenly flew out of the darkness and smashed through the window at the front of the place. He stopped just outside the bar. In the back, two robots headed towards the front.

Inside the bubble of darkness, Shadow Knight rushed one of the confused robots, one of his sword hitting it at a bad angle and bouncing off it while the other sword cut through the robot. There was a sizzle of electricity and the sound of the thing powering down.

“Error …” it said, the voice fading at the end.

The robot fell to pieces.

Edward, standing outside of the darkness, saw Shadow Knight leap out of the black bubble, both of his legs tucked under him as he flew over the bar. He swung both swords at the robot, but both of them missed. He landed next to the machine.

Arclight peeked into the window and saw a robot outside of the darkness. He rushed the robot and slammed the robot in the head, which flew right off the thing.

“Error! Error! Error!” it said as it flew away.

The body shuddered and stopped moving. Arclight grabbed the lightning gun out of his hands and then kicked it over.

Behind the bar, Shadow Knight ran from the robot and rushed to the one coming from the back of the restaurant. One sword bounced off the robot but the other one cut into the machine but didn’t destroy it. The blow knocked the robot back about eight meters where it crashed to the ground.

“Malfunction! Malfunction! Malfunction!” the robot cried.

Nearby, Edward, staring down the robot the whole time, fired the frigid gun at it again. He missed and ice formed on the wall behind it. Something shook and there was a pop as a beer keg, now filled with frozen beer, ruptured and broke open.

The robot near Shadow Knight sat up and fired at the man while the one that came out of the kitchen looked around. The blast missed the man as he zipped out of the way and blasted the side of the bar.

“Assessing,” the robot near the kitchen said.

The robot behind the bar fired at Edward again. The lightning headed for him and he leaned back away from the blast, which missed him my mere inches. He never took his eyes on the robot and continued to point the gun at it. Arclight suddenly burst out of the darkness over the bar and stopped just before he hit the wall near it.

* * *

Outside, Tinker ran towards the hole in the wall when a blast of lightning came out of it. He dived down and the blast went over him and struck the ground somewhere behind him.

* * *

“Hi Edward!” Arclight said.

“Hi!” Edward replied. “Where’s McElroy?”

“The darkness,” Arclight said. “Where did that shit come from?”

“Quick guy,” Edward said.

Across the room, Shadow Knight rushed the robot coming out of the kitchen, cutting it with one of his swords and knocking it back into the tables behind it.

* * *

“What the **** is happening in there?” Tinker said to himself.

He stood up and headed to the hole in the wall. The darkness covered a good section of the room and he could see Edward pointing the frigid gun at the robot behind the bar. Arclight was between the two.

“Ow!” McElroy yelled from somewhere in the darkness as he ran into something. “I’ve had enough of this! I’ve had enough of this!”

There was a hissing noise just like Edward’s laser rifle from somewhere in the darkness and a flash came from the other side of the room. Edward fired another shot from the frigid gun at the robot but overcompensated. The blast struck a rack of bottles, which froze, cracked and then shattered, disgorging wine-bottle-shaped chunks of white or red ice that shattered when they hit the floor.

The robot fired as Arclight flew directly towards it. The lightning struck him and cascaded around him as he flew through it and slammed the robot. He put his fist through the chest of the thing and it flew backward and crashed to the ground a few meters away.

Across the room, the robot that had crashed into the wall brought its electric rifle to bear on Shadow Knight. It pulled the trigger and the gun crackled.

“Malfunction!” the gun said. “Malfunction! Malfunction!”

The last robot, near the back, got to its feet.

Shadow Knight thrust his sword into the chest of the robot with the malfunctioning electric gun. It shivered, crackled with electricity, and then collapsed to the floor.

The darkness in the middle of the room seemed to melt away. Tommy McElroy stood there, Edward’s laser rifle in his hands. Shadow Knight rushed the man with his swords and McElroy screamed. Shadow Knight slammed the hilts of the swords into the man’s head and he went down to the ground in a heap.

Arclight rushed the last robot, which was already damaged. He slammed into the thing, tackling it, flung off his gloves, and then pounded on the robot until the head was inverted and it made no more noises. His hands were bloodied by the time he was done.

They looked around. None of the robots were still moving. Some of them still made strange noises but they were obviously out of commission. Tinker entered the room as Shadow Knight picked up a groggy McElroy by the back of his shirt. Tinker went over to the robot without a head and started examining it. Arclight went over to McElroy and grabbed him by the back of the jacket as well, but on the other side.

“This man’s going to answer for his sins,” Arclight said.

“What’d he do?” Shadow Knight asked. “Who is he?”

Edward picked up his laser rifle and then took a napkin to wipe his sweat off it. He went back to the office to look for paperwork.

Together, Arclight and Shadow Night walked out of the bar and grill with the man. More police cars were starting to arrive. There was a very loud gunshot and McElroy jerked back as the bullet struck him in the chest.

“Holy shit!” Arclight cried.

Shadow Knight let go of the man and McElroy turned towards Arclight with blood on his chest, clawing at him.

“The Syndicate!” he muttered. “The Syndicate!”

Then he died.

Arclight put him down.

“Sniper!” the police yelled. “Sniper!”

Shadow Knight concentrated a moment and realized there was someone up on top of the building across the parking lot.

“Over here!” he yelled and ran towards the building.

Arclight flew after him and the man ran up the wall of the building. As Shadow Knight came up over the side of the building, a bullet struck him in the chest but just bounced off his armor. Behind him, Arclight fired up his shield. Shadow Knight didn’t see anyone. Arclight flew up over the top of the building but there was no one there.

“Where is he?” Arclight said.

There seemed to be an invisible shape by the radio antenna.

“By the antenna!” Shadow Knight said.

There was no one over there.

“Where is he?” Arclight said.

Shadow Knight ran over towards the antenna with Arclight close behind.

“Good luck, heroes!” a voice out of nowhere said.

Something came out of nowhere that flashed. It arced towards the police cars. Arclight turned and flew after the device. Shadow Knight lost where the man was - his super touch was not registering any movement. He ran to the spot where the flung the bomb from but couldn’t feel anything.

* * *

Arclight followed the grenade down and tried to grab it but missed completely. He grabbed at it again but missed again as it hit the ground.

“Bomb! Bomb!” he yelled.

In desperation, he landed on the thing and covered it with himself. There was an explosion under him that flung him up in the air about eight yards. He crashed back to the ground with a groan.

Edward ran out of the bar and grill in time to see Arclight crash to the ground and then get flung upwards by the explosion. Tinker was looking out of the window when it happened and then headed out to see to McElroy. Several police officers ran to Arclight where he lay.

* * *

Shadow Knight looked around the roof and thought he felt someone at the edge of the roof, but the person only seemed to be a couple of feet tall. The fugitive had seemed larger earlier. There was no sign of anyone though. He ran over and looked over the edge. He could not make out the person any more. No one was on the roof or the side of the building.

Somebody was walking away from the area of the building. He had long hair and a long beard and didn’t appear to be armed. He staggered a little as if he was drunk. He ran over to the parking lot and saw there were few cars in it. The long-haired man turned and headed up the road. He followed the man up the road a little but he looked lost. He looked at the man, trying to see his face so he’d recognize him later.

Then he ran to the rooftop where the sniper had been hiding but found nothing there.

* * *

Edward ran over to Arclight, who looked like he was in a lot of pain.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Oh … God,” Arclight muttered. “Find … find Hans … whatever.”

Over by McElroy, Tinker found the man was very dead. He started looking around for the bullet. It had to be in the ground somewhere nearby as it had passed right through the man. He continued to search around and found the it in the pavement. He dug it out; it was a .50 caliber round. He guessed it was probably fired from a Barrett.

Edward advised the police search through McElroy’s office. He suggested they be on the lookout for anything about arson as he believed McElroy had been behind the fires at the apartment buildings recently.

“What? Really?” the officer said. “Good job … what? What is your name?”

“Edward,” Edward said.

“I thought you were Cool Croc or something,” the officer said.

Edward shook his head.

“Good job, Edward!” the officer said. “You figured that out by yourself? Man! This guy’s a genius!”

“No,” Edward said. “All of us.”

He went over to the crater from the explosion and found several pieces of shrapnel, pocketing them to give to Tinker later. He overheard the police taking statements from the hostages, most of whom claimed the “Crocodile-Man” had saved them all. The little boy who had been held hostage was really excited about Edward.

“I wanna be just like him when I grow up!” he said.

Do you need a magnet?” Edward’s suit asked him. “Or a holster?

“Uh … yeah,” Edward said. “I guess, sure …”

Which do you prefer?” the suit asked.

“Let’s do a magnet,” Edward said.

Something appeared on the side of the suit. When he put the gun to it, it clamped on.

The police took over the scene and started processing it. Paramedics saw to Arclight’s bruises and gave him some Advil. Tinker found him and asked for his help taking one of the robots back to his apartment. Arclight suggested he drag it around the side of a building until after he dealt with the media.

“So, did you stop the grenade?” Shadow Knight asked Arclight.

He had seen the crater by the untouched police car and he’d also noticed the black scorch on Arclight’s chest, as well as the shrapnel sticking into the man’s armor.

“So, you couldn’t catch it in midair?” he said.

“I couldn’t catch it,” Arclight said. “But my abs did.”

The media showed up shortly after that. Arclight got up to answer questions. Tinker put his mask on and joined him.

“What happened here?” one reporter asked.

Arclight held himself carefully, grimacing in pain.

“We found out that Tommy McElroy was behind the apartment fires,” he said. “We are not yet sure why he was burning down the buildings. We confronted him about it. He took hostages and tried to kill them. We stopped him and his robots, apprehended him, and then he was assassinated before we could turn him in to the police.”

“What?” someone said.

“He was assassinated?” another said.

“Did you catch the assassin?” a third said.

“Who’s the assassin?” another asked. “What did he look like?”

“The assassin is an exotic that we do not know …” Arclight said, looking at Shadow Knight. “He then tried to throw a bomb at the cops and, as you can see, I apprehended said bomb. In my torso, which was badly bruised.”

“Arclight! Arclight!” one reporter called. “Steve Steele, WJZY Fox News!”

“What do you want, Steve?” Arclight said. “God damn!”

“Do you think Vanguard’s behind this?” Steele asked.

“I do not think Vanguard is behind this,” Arclight said.

“But how can you be sure?” Steele said. “Did you see him at the vicinity?”

“I did not,” Arclight said.

“So, is he hiding out somewhere?”

“He could be.”

“There you have it folks, Vanguard is behind this but he’s hiding out!”

More questions were asked and answered.

* * *

“So, you’re taking one of the robots?” Shadow Knight said in his deep voice to Tinker as Arclight fielded questions.

“What?” Tinker said. “Honestly, I prefer the German. It sounds less angry somehow.”

“I use the voice to … disguise better,” Shadow Knight said in his own voice.

“Yeah, I’m taking a robot,” Tinker said.

“So, you are into technology?”

“Very much.”

“Nice. It looks like it’s rather heavy. Will it fit on your motorcycle?”

“No, but I’m hoping Arclight’s going to give me a hand with that.”

“He looks a little injured at the moment.”

“He’s tough. Look at him. He said he would. He wouldn’t lie to me.”

“It’s good that he was able to save the police. Perhaps I could lend you a hand.”

“That’d be great. I’m not going to turn it down.”

“So how much did you want? Just the one?”

“The whole thing. Yeah. The robot.”

“The others: no?”

“I mean, this one seems to be in the best condition, so … I figured it would do.”

“If you take this portion of another, would it not help you reattach?”

“This one’s just missing it’s head.”

“Oh, so it should be easy to fix?”

“Yes. Yes, it should be. Yeah, no. Any time now. Whenever he’s done with the media!”

Tinker was tapping his foot and raised his voice.

“Would you like me to take it now?” Shadow Knight said as Arclight walked over.

“Are you ready to go?” Arclight asked Tinker.

“Let’s do this,” Tinker said.

Edward slipped out of the shadows and handed Tinker a tiny baggy of the shrapnel.

“This is from the grenade,” Edward said. “Maybe the material will help us find out about whoever they are.”

“Yes,” Tinker said. “I would like that.”

“So, apparently Charlotte is plagued by this … Syndicate?” Shadow Knight said.

“So, German guy, I might have been wrong about you from the beginning,” Arclight said.

“In public, you mind calling me The Shadow Knight?” The Shadow Knight said.

“Shadow Knight … yeah, okay,” Arclight said. “You helped us quite a bit and … um … it … pains me to say this, but do you want to help … us?”

“Pains you?”

“Yeah. I don’t like being wrong.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Ugh.”

“No, I would love to help you - especially if it can make this city safer.”

“Great.”

“Maybe don’t flag our captured out quite open next time,” Edward said.

“Excuse me?” Shadow Knight said.

“Maybe don’t just hold who we’ve captured wide open,” Edward said.

“Well, next time I will assume there may be an assassin,” Shadow Knight said.

“We didn’t know Tommy was going to get shot,” Arclight said. “He’s a pretty hated buy but I didn’t think anybody’d actually kill the guy.”

“He made a big target too,” Shadow Knight said.

“We couldn’t have shielded him if we tried,” Arclight said.

“I’m just upset that I didn’t get to shoot him,” Edward said. “I wouldn’t have killed him.”

“Oh,” Shadow Knight said. “Well, he’s still there if you want to.”

They looked over at the body bag the paramedics had put over McElroy’s body.

“Let’s get this robot to your place though,” Arclight said.

They all headed back to Tinker’s apartment. He had taken one of the lightning guns and had the damaged robot as well as the grenade shrapnel.

Arclight’s cell phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number but answered.

“Hello?” he said.

“Uh … hey,” a woman’s voice said.

“Hi,” Arclight said.

“It’s me,” the woman said. “We met at the bar tonight?”

“Yeah, we did.”

“I’m Megan, by the way.”

“Yes. I’m glad I have a name for the face. The pretty face.”

“You’re Kurt, right?”

“Yeah. Kurt Richards. Arclight.”

“Are you okay? I saw you on the news.”

“Yeah, I jumped on a bomb today.”

“Oh, you did?”

“Yeah. My abs hurt.”

“Well, maybe I could help you with that.”

“Yeah? So, is this happening?”

“Well, the bar is going to be closed shortly.”

“Yeah, I could pick you up.”

“So, come on by.”

“All right. I’ll do that.”

* * *

While Arclight talked on the phone, Shadow Knight turned to Tinker.

“Is he like this a lot?” he asked. “You seem much more relaxed now.”

“I got my robot,” Tinker said, lighting a cigarette. “I got my electric gun. Woo-hoo.”

* * *

Arclight hung up and there was a scratching at the door.

“Wha …?” Tinker said. “What …?”

He opened the door. Doug the Pug was there.

“I got lost,” the dog confessed.

“Doug!” Arclight said. “Yeah you did! What the ****?”

“I … uh … went to that apartment building that you guys fought them at,” Doug said.

“Oh,” Arclight said.

“I thought that’s where we were meeting,” Doug said.

“Oh,” Arclight said. “Doug! You have a pager for these things.”

“I forgot,” Doug said.

“Didn’t look at it,” Arclight said. “Didn’t look at it. Well, remember for next time.”

“I will,” Doug said. “I’m sorry.”

“Also, I’ve got a date tonight so you’re going to be sleeping over at Tinker’s tonight, alright?” Arclight said.

“What?” Tinker said.

Arclight walked out the door.

“Yea!” Doug said.

He ran to the couch and lay down comfortably, settling in.

“He seems a little offensive,” Shadow Knight said. “If you ever need to contact me … uh … here is a number you can reach me.”

He gave Tinker a cell phone number for his work phone. Edward went over to the couch with Doug.

“If you don’t mind distributing to the rest of your team?” Shadow Knight said.

“I can do that,” Tinker said.

He sent a text to all of the others with the number for “Shadow German.”

“Done,” he said.

* * *

Shadow Knight went home and found his nine-year-old daughter, Zoey, watching Inuyasha on Adult Swim when he got home.

* * *

Edward got up to go back to the sewers.

“You don’t gotta go down there,” Tinker said.

“What’s wrong with my life?” Edward asked.

“Nothing!” Tinker said. “Go, if you want to. I don’t give a ****. I just thought I’d be nice. Since you’re already here. I just don’t want to be alone with Doug.”

Doug looked up and frowned, putting his head back down on his paws. He looked sad.

“I like Doug,” Edward said.

* * *

Arclight met Megan at the bar and was a complete gentleman with the woman. Megan, whose last name was Morgan took Arclight home to her apartment and he ended up spending the night there. She preferred to be intimate without only lava lamps on in her room.

* * *

On Monday, October 27, 2014, Arclight had a meeting with Papa Franchetti. Papa Alexei Franchetti proved to be a large Russian man with a salt and pepper beard and mustache who wore a black coat and a fur hat.

“Da, I would like you to do commercial,” he said with a heavy Russian accent.

He told Arclight he had only lived in America for a few years, opening the pizza restaurant as he loved pizzas and especially calzones, which was the house specialty.

“Make me impressive commercial,” he said to Arclight.

“I’ll make you the best commercial, Papa Franchetti,” Arclight said.

“You are good man!” Papa Franchetti said.

He kissed Arclight’s cheeks and embraced him.

When he got back to Vanguard’s, he found a check from Murray, his agent for the work he’d done on the Arrow television series. He had only taken a day to film his scene as Doctor Light. It had taken place in a super villain bar and someone had said to him:

“Yo, Light, come over here. It’s dark.”

He had walked over to the table.

“I didn’t go to graduate school for eight years to be called Light,” had been his only line. “It’s Doctor Light!”

Then he had flared up and blinded the people at the table.

The check was for $4,500. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1950-Superworld-Fire-and-Ice-Session-Three-Part-2-Robots-Attack!
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Three http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1949-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Three Sat, 29 Aug 2015 03:07:26 GMT Wednesday, August 26, 2015 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Kaitlyn, Seikotash, and Tabitha... Wednesday, August 26, 2015

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Kaitlyn, Seikotash, and Tabitha Friday, August 21, 2015, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.)

Lisa Bennet was a fitness education major at Appalachian State University. She was 20 years old and wanted to be a personal trainer. She was average-looking with blonde hair and blue eyes. She stood about 5’2” and was very slim. She wore tennis shorts and a t-shirt. She was secretly part of a small, obscure cult with three followers. She had read of terrible things to happen to the world and participated in some nasty acts that she didn’t want anyone to know about.

Daniel Fipps went by the YouTube nom de plume “Fatty McFatty” on a channel he played World of Warcraft and Defense of the Ancients on. He was 6’1” and weighed 240 pounds, very little of it muscle. He had brown hair, a soul patch, and a scraggly beard but no mustache. He was not in very good shape.

At age 24, Fipps still lived with his mother and worked at Radio Shack at the Boone Mall but spent all of his money on video games because he wanted to get up in the world and was sure his YouTube channel would be taking off soon. He had about 1,000 YouTube subscribers though only 20 videos on his channel and was uploading on a weekly basis. He’d gone to college for a while but it wasn’t his thing. He was learning the python programming language because it was, as he put it, “the wave of the future.” He wore cargo pants and a black shirt with a My Little Pony on it “because that’s what the real men wear.”

Bennet and Fipps had gone to high school together, she just starting when he was a senior. She only barely knew him and then they ran into each other again in Boone. He had asked the girl out to his senior prom but she had turned him down, even though he had let her cheat off him in Health class.

Fredrick McFluffilstein was Scottish man standing 5’4” tall. His 180 pounds was all muscle, mainly because he participated in the Highland games “like real men.” He had shoulder-length, curly red hair pulled into a pony tail and a bushy red beard. He would have been amazingly attractive were it not for a thick scar that ran from over his left eye across his face and down all the way to the right side of his jaw. He was 28 years old and a bouncer at The Local, a bar on Howard Street.

He had run into the other two at The Local. He had had a talk with Bennet one night when she tried to order alcohol though she was underage. Fipps had gone to the place one night to play Magic: The Gathering but his friends had gotten rowdy and it was McFluffilstein who had kicked them out.

On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, the three of them happened to be Trash Can Falls. All three had come separately, but when McFluffilstein had shown them his cooler full of beer and bottles of whiskey, asking them to join him for a few drinks, they both accepted. They drank for several hours with the man, until well after dark, and lost track of time. Everyone else had left by about 11 p.m. Music was playing on the radio in McFluffilstein’s Prius and the three were hanging out, still a little buzzed. Both of the others had changed out of their swimsuits, Miss Bennet putting her clothing on over hers. McFluffilstein wore only a kilt and boots.

A large meteor plummeted out of the sky in the direction of Boone. It struck the ground somewhere miles away with a flash. Several seconds later, they could barely hear the report of the strike.

“Meteor!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “From Final Fantasy VII, man! Sephiroth!”

“Calm yer tits, mon,” McFluffilstein said. “I’m gonna go investigate that meteor. We’ll take my car.”

“We’ll take your car!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “‘Cause that’s a great idea! Go find the comet! Sephiroth, man!”

“Save the environment!” McFluffilstein said.

“Sure, why not?” Fipps said.

“My Scotland Yard stuff is in the back,” McFluffilstein said as they got into his car. “Don’t mind it.”

“Scotland Yard is in England, man,” Fipps said.

“Shut up!” McFluffilstein said.

“I think he’s faking,” Miss Bennet whispered to Fipps as they went around to the passenger side of the car.

Fipps jumped into the front passenger seat.

“Shotgun!” he said, rubbing his nose.

“What? Miss Bennet thought. “Rude.”

“I’m bigger than you,” Fipps said. “I won’t fit in the back.”

They headed for Boone, leaving Miss Bennet’s Honda Civic and Fipps’ Subaru Forrester there and planning on picking them up later. They passed through Sugar Grove and Vilas. McFluffilstein, guessing the meteor had fallen on the Blowing Rock side of Boone, took the 105 Bypass to the south side of town, taking a left onto 105. They noticed cars just stopped on the four-lane street, sitting in the middle of the road. McFluffilstein slowed down.

“Boone traffic,” Miss Bennet said. “Must be move-in day.”

“No it’s not,” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “That’s not for another, like, month.”

McFluffilstein stopped behind a car just sitting in the passing lane in front of the Ingles Parking Lot. He laid on the horn.

“Get outta m’ way!” he shouted. “I’m on a mission!”

“Did moving day, like, happen earlier than usual?” Fipps asked, rubbing his nose.

“I have a tissue in th’ console if ye need it,” McFluffilstein said.

“Oh, it’s just a nervous tic,” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

McFluffilstein could see the silhouette of someone in the car moving around.

“We need t’ go check on that person,” he said. “Who’s just sittin’ there, lookin’ around.”

“In which car, man?” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“That one!” McFluffilstein said, pointing out the car ahead of them.

Fipps unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out of the Prius with a groan.

“You’re too scrawny of a man!” McFluffilstein said to him.

“I’m bigger than you!” Fipps said to him. “I can sit on you!”

“You may be fatter, but I’m sure I can lift ye,” McFluffilstein said.

“I’m not denying that,” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“Hey, we get it,” Miss Bennet said. “Both of you are big. You don’t need to take out your dicks and compare. Can we just, like, go?”

“If I do take out my dick, as you so put it−” McFluffilstein said.

“Oh my God,” Miss Bennet said, rolling her eyes.

“−I would win … the contest!” McFluffilstein finished.

“Oh no,” Miss Bennet said.

“For biggest inflated ego,” Fipps quipped.

“Shut up, you!” McFluffilstein said. “All right, let’s go after that guy!”

He got out of the car. Miss Bennet got out of the back seat on the passenger side and followed the two men as they walked towards the stopped car.

“You stay in the car!” Fipps said to her, rubbing his nose. “We need someone to get a quick getaway.”

“No,” she said.

“Get in the front!” Fipps said.

McFluffilstein noticed someone wandering around in the Ingles parking lot who looked very drunk, stumbling around without purpose.

“Hey, you drunkard!” he called to the man. “What’re ye doing?”

The man stopped and looked his way and then started to shamble his direction.

“Oh no,” McFluffilstein said to Fipps. “I saw this movie!”

“Shaun of the Dead, right?” Fipps said.

“Shaun of the Dead!” McFluffilstein said, rubbing his nose. “That’s m’ favorite!”

The both started singing some bit of music from the movie.

“Yeah!” McFluffilstein said.

Miss Bennet just laughed at the two idiots. She looked past them at the car they were behind and saw that whoever was in the driver’s seat was reaching out the window and flailing both arms.

“Are they drunk?” Fipps said of the man stumbling towards them from Ingles. “Or are they just kind of recreating Shaun of the Dead, man?”

“Damn!” McFluffilstein said. “It’s like Tuesday night! Hey dude! Dude!”

The man just stared at him as he continued to slowly approach.

“Dude!” McFluffilstein said again.

“Hey man, bro!” Fipps said. “What’s up?”

The man didn’t answer but continued to walk their way. Fipps went over to the car. That’s when he saw the man reaching out of the window. Fipps slapped the car.

“Dude!” he said to the man.

“Dude!” McFluffilstein said at the same time to the man in the parking lot.

“Dude, stop!” Fipps said.

“Didn’t you say that movie was about zombies?” Miss Bennet asked, getting nervous.

“Shaun of the Dead, yeah,” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “It’s about zombies!”

“What’s wrong with you, dude?” McFluffilstein called to the man in the parking lot. Then he turned to Miss Bennet. “Oh my God, have you seen it!?!”

“It’s like Dawn of the Dead, man,” Fipps said to her, rubbing his nose. “It’s, like, not even real.”

“Why are you trying to attract the attention of potential zombies?” she said.

She was feeling a little unnerved because when Fipps turned to talk to her, the person flailing their arms out of the window reached for him. He was too far away, however.

“Zombies are just in movies!” McFluffilstein said.

“Zombies aren’t real,” Fipps said.

“Zombies are just fake!” McFluffilstein said.

“Maybe you should just, like, …” Miss Bennet said, staring at the arms in horror.

Fipps turned back to the driver and then stepped back when he saw the man trying to reach him.

“Shit, man!” he said, rubbing his nose. “What is … that!?!”

“Cool down!” McFluffilstein said.

“You know, I−” Miss Bennet said.

“Are you having a seizure, man?” Fipps asked the man in the car.

“Dude!” McFluffilstein said.

“If you−” Miss Bennet said.

“Call 119!” McFluffilstein said. “Call 119!”

“911, man!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“Sorry, I’m from Scotland!” McFluffilstein said.

“He’s having a seizure!” Fipps said again.

“Hey, idiots!” Miss Bennet said. “You said this was like a zombie movie.”

“Shaun of the Dead,” Fipps said, turning his back on the flailing man in the car again. “But it’s a comedy zombie movie.”

“Shaun of the Dead,” McFluffilstein said. “It’s a British comedy.”

“Yeah, but if it’s happening in real life …” she said.

“They’re just drunk!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“They’re just drunk!” McFluffilstein said.

“I don’t think so!” she cried out.

The man in the parking lot reached the edge of the street.

“You know, we should probably leave, because they don’t seem like they’re sane,” Miss Bennet said.

“Hey, dude!” McFluffilstein said. “Dude!”

“If you say it’s like a movie, don’t go towards it!” Miss Bennet yelled.

“Dude!” McFluffilstein said.

“Stop!” she said.

“There’s nothing wrong with him!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

McFluffilstein walked to the man.

“Dude!” he yelled in the man’s face.

“Man, if you’re stoning or something, you should get off that,” Fipps said conversationally.

Miss Bennet had enough. She climbed into the driver’s seat of McFluffilstein’s Prius. The man near McFluffilstein opened his mouth and lunged at him.

“Dude!” McFluffilstein screamed.

“Man! He’s trying to eat you!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “He’s like that guy in Florida! You better run Fredrick! Get your ass in the car! We need to get the **** out of here!”

“They’re probably on bath salts!” Miss Bennet yelled.

Miss Bennet found she didn’t even have to adjust the car seat. Though he bulged with muscles, McFluffilstein was not much taller than she was. Fipps ran to the car and leapt into the front passenger seat, pulling the door closed. He left the back door on the passenger side open.

“Get him Fredrick!” Fipps yelled.

McFluffilstein punched the man in the face. It was no more than a glancing blow but it didn’t even seem to distract the man, who tried to bite him though the Scotsman pushed him off. He kept coming at the man. It was terrifying. McFluffilstein also noticed several other people were in the parking lot. He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen them before. Maybe they had been lying down behind the cars.

“Get in the car!” Fipps called.

Miss Bennet put the Prius in gear.

“No!” Fipps said. “You can’t leave Fredrick! It’s his car!”

She pushed lightly on the accelerator and started to pull away.

“The door’s open, man!” Fipps yelled.

“Guys!” McFluffilstein called after them. “Guys! You’re such ****ing *******s! *******s!”

“Okay, bye!” Miss Bennet said from inside the car. “I’ve read of things in our legends!”

She slowly pulled the car around the left side of the vehicle stopped in the road ahead. There was a bang as the open passenger side door hit the other car, got scraped, and slammed shut. McFluffilstein looked over his shoulder long enough to see the minor accident.

“You son of a *****!” he screamed.

“Dude, can you just like … stop for 10 seconds and let him in?” Fipps said to Miss Bennet. “He’s got the guns. We don’t have nothing.”

“But we have a car,” Miss Bennet said with a smile.

“The guns!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

* * *

Outside, McFluffilstein grabbed the man who was trying to bite him. The man tried to break free.

* * *

In the car, Fipps tried to convince Bennet to run over the zombie McFluffilstein was fighting. She continued to drive slowly away.

“Looks, he’s gone,” she said.

“No, he’s still there,” Fipps said.

“Look, he’s gone,” she said again. “He’ll be okay.”

“No!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “Dammit. He has the guns!”

He grabbed the steering wheel.

“Oh no!” Miss Bennet said.

She managed to keep the car going in a straight line though they ended up in the right lane. They passed the Ingles entrance.

Bye, Miss Bennet thought.

* * *

McFluffilstein tried to pick up the man and throw him but he was too heavy. Then the man broke free of his grip.

* * *

“Lisa!” Fipps yelled at the woman.

He grabbed the handbrake and pulled it up. The car ground to a halt as the wheels locked.

“This is his car!” Fipps said to her. “You’ve got bad Karma on you! This will make you fail Fallout!”

“He’s being eaten!” she replied.

“He’s not even−!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“He’s dead now!” Miss Bennet said.

Then something hit the car.

* * *

McFluffilstein turned and ran to the stopped car. He noticed more and more people were standing up in the parking lot. He jumped onto the top of the car, grabbing the roof as best he could and pounding on it.

* * *

When the two in the car heard someone beating on the roof they stopped arguing.

“I don’t care!” Fipps cried. “Drive! Drive!”

Miss Bennet floored the accelerator but the parking brake was still on as they jerked forward. She reached over and threw it down. The car leapt ahead, McFluffilstein holding onto the car as best he could. The Prius roared down 105, Miss Bennet accelerating well past the speed limit of 35 miles per hour. She weaved through cars sitting in the lanes.

“My mom’s house,” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“**** no!” Miss Bennet said.

“What is wrong with my mom!?!” Fipps said.

“I can’t believe you live at your mom’s house!” Miss Bennet said.

“Guys! Guys!” McFluffilstein yelled.

“I have the whole basement,” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“My house!” McFluffilstein cried. “My house!”

“Oh my god!” Fipps screamed. “It’s a zombie!”

Miss Bennet put the accelerator to the floor and the needle on the speedometer slid over 60.

“My house!” McFluffilstein screamed.

They were passing the Dodge dealership and Miss Bennet swerved around another stopped car. She overcompensated and hit the right curve. With a crash, the car leapt several feet into the air. McFluffilstein felt himself lifted off the roof and then slammed back down onto it as the car crashed into the shoulder. The front of the car spun to the right as all three of them screamed. The car spun in a circle and Fipps grabbed the parking brake again. The Prius hit another stopped car in the opposite lane, glanced off it, and spun around twice more before it came to a halt in the road. A loud bang came from under the car.

As they came to a stop, something slid down onto the windshield and the hood of the car. It was a man wearing a kilt.

“Dude! Dude!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “It’s Fredrick!”

“Okay! Okay!” Miss Bennet said.

“Get out of the−!” McFluffilstein growled.

“Noooo!” Miss Bennet said.

“Get out of the driver seat!” he said again.

“Noooo!”

“Get out of−!”

“Noooo! Get in the car!”

“Get out of−!”

“Get in the car!”

“Just get in the car, man!” Fipps said.

“Get in the car!” Miss Bennet said.

Both Miss Bennet and McFluffilstein saw people walking towards the car from either side.

“Ah!” Miss Bennet cried. “Get in the car! Run run run! Aaaah!”

“Ye drive like an idiot!” McFluffilstein said.

Miss Bennet continued to squeal and McFluffilstein got into the back seat. As soon as he was in, Miss Bennet put down the parking brake and drove, leaving the people behind. The wheel pulled hard to the left and the car drove unevenly, leaning down on the left side.

“Shit,” she said.

“Ye broke m’ car!” McFluffilstein said. “Ye moron!”

It felt like the right front tire was flat. Miss Bennet continued to drive anyway.

“My mom’s house, man!” Fipps said.

“No, I don’t know where your mom’s house is!” Miss Bennet said.

“Let’s go to Wal-Mart!” McFluffilstein said. “It has guns!”

“You’re a bright man!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “I saw this in a movie. Raid it.”

“They got guns!” McFluffilstein said. “We got supplies!”

Miss Bennet drove them to the intersection of 105 and Blowing Rock Road in a panic. When they reached the intersection, it looked like there had been an accident. Several cars simply sat at the stoplights regardless of whether they were red or green. A car on Blowing Rock road heading north had its left front headlight crumpled and broken and it had apparently rolled back into the car behind it. An Audi sedan sat in the southbound lane, blocking it. The left front headlight and hood of that car was damaged as well, as if the Audi had struck the other car nearly head-on. Tire marks on the road seemed to support the fact the Audio had struck the car and spun out. The driver’s side door was open and the car was running.

They were seeing many more people but all of them looked pretty drunk, shambling around and stumbling on the sidewalk and the even in the street. They noticed whenever they drove by anyone, they turned to look at the car and walked towards it.

“Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart!” McFluffilstein chanted.

Miss Bennet slammed on the brakes of the car, pulling it to a halt. She turned in the seat and looked at the others.

“We need to make a sacrifice!” she said.

“It’s your turn!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“No!” Miss Bennet said.

“I vote for the small girl!” McFluffilstein said.

“I can’t do it!” she said. “I need to sing the hymn. I need to sing the hymn. We need to make a sacrifice.
They will be happy. They will be happy. You!”

She pointed at McFluffilstein.

“What type of bullshit is she talking about?” Fipps said.

“You!” Miss Bennet said again.

“I’m the one that can protect ye!” McFluffilstein said.

“Him!” she said, pointing at Fipps.

“Okay!” McFluffilstein said.

“No way, man!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“Him!” Miss Bennet said again. “Push him out! Push him out! Push him out!”

“Huh-uh!” Fipps said.

She started shoving on Fipps. When she realized he was buckled in she reached for the buckle but he quickly covered it up.

“Help me!” she said to McFluffilstein.

“Huh-uh!” Fipps said again. “She’s crazy! She’s crazy!”

“Hey!” McFluffilstein said. “Let’s go t’ my apartment! I have guns!”

“Who lives in an apartment, man?” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“Weapons,” McFluffilstein said.

“I don’t know where the hell his apartment is!” Miss Bennet said. “We need a sacrifice!”

“Hey!” McFluffilstein said again. “Take a left.”

“Sacrifice to appease them!” Miss Bennet said.

“Left!” McFluffilstein said.

“You’re crazy!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “Stop it!”

“We need−!” Miss Bennet said.

“LEFT!” McFluffilstein screamed.

“Fine, fine!” Miss Bennet said. “Can we make the sacrifice at your house?”

“No!” Fipps said.

“I think I have a goldfish!” McFluffilstein said.

“We need human blood!” she said.

“Dude!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“I think I have my x-wife’s phone number!” McFluffilstein said.

“Dude, I’m telling you! No!” Fipps said again.

The conversation stopped for just a moment and McFluffilstein thought he heard a baby crying somewhere.

Let’s leave it, he thought.

“Left turn!” he said loudly to drown out the sound from the others. “Left turn! Left turn! Left turn!”

Miss Bennet turned left onto Blowing Rock Road towards Appalachian State University.

“Why are we going towards King Street!?!” Miss Bennet said. “Do you know how many of those ****ers’ll be there!?!”

More and more people were on the sidewalks and wandering in the street as they got closer to the college.

“My apartment has … all the things we need to survive this,” McFluffilstein insisted. “I have guns.”

“What, goldfish?” Miss Bennet said.

“I have guns,” McFluffilstein said again. “I have−”

“Goons?” Miss Bennet said. “What are goons?”

“Guns,” McFluffilstein said. He had a very thick accent.

“What the **** are goons?” Miss Bennet said.

“Guns!” McFluffilstein said.

“Guns!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

Miss Bennet had looked back at McFluffilstein, confused by his accent. When she looked forward again, a man was directly in the road ahead. The car slammed into the man, who came up over the windshield, smashing against it in a burst of blood and gore.

“****!” McFluffilstein cried out.

“Lisa!” Fipps yelled. “What is wrong with you!?!”

“He was there!” Miss Bennet shrieked.

She whined in a high-pitched squeal of terror and horror. Fipps started to shriek as well.

“Calm yer tits!” McFluffilstein shouted.

“Calm yer tits!” Fipps shouted.

“Calm yer tits!” McFluffilstein shouted.

“Calm yer tits!” Fipps shouted.

“Are ye Scottish now!?!”

“Are ye Scottish now!?!”

“What’re ye doin’?”

“What’re ye doin’?”

Miss Bennet pushed down on the accelerator, driving faster.

“Are ye repeatin’ my question?” McFluffilstein shouted.

“Are ye repeatin’ my question?” Fipps shouted.

“What the ****!?!” McFluffilstein shouted.

“What the ****!?!” Fipps shouted.

“Oi don’t like this!” McFluffilstein shouted.

“Oi don’t like this!” Fipps shouted.

McFluffilstein screamed and Fipps did as well. Miss Bennet continued to drive faster and faster as the two men screamed at each other, Fipps repeating everything McFluffilstein said. They roared past River Street but, as Miss Bennet could not see clearly out of the windshield due to the blood, as Blowing Rock Road curved to the right, she kept going straight.

“Stop it!” McFluffilstein said.

“Stop it!” Fipps said.

“You son of a *****!” McFluffilstein said.

“You son of a *****!” Fipps said.

“I’ll cut ye!”

“I’ll cut ye!”

“Yer really pissin’ me off!”

“Yer really pissin’ me off!”

“I will - wooo!”

“I will - wooo!”

There was a loud bang as the front of the car lifted up when they hit the curb at the corner of Dauph Blan Street and Blowing Rock Road. They roared across the grass on the other side of the curb to a deep ditch that ran across the spot, Miss Bennet not slowing down at all. The car smashed into the ditch and everyone was flung forward.

“Oh my God!” Fipps said.

Everyone was wearing seatbelts except for Miss Bennet. The airbags deployed. Both Miss Bennet and Fipps were burned by the hot airbags as the powder they were packed in filled up the interior of the automobile. The car stalled and they heard water rushing below them somewhere. They sat there, stunned for about a minute.

“All right, guys,” McFluffilstein muttered. “All right.”

“Where’s the white mage when you need it?” Fipps groaned, rubbing his nose.

“I think … I think we can make it to The Local where I have a gun in my locker,” McFluffilstein said.

“A gun in your locker, man?” Fipps said.

“I’m a bouncer!” McFluffilstein said. “If anything happens−!”

“Dude, it’s illegal!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“No, it’s not!” McFluffilstein said. “I have a concealed carry license!”

“What is wrong … oh my God!”

“Shut up!”

“This is gaming shit! This is the real world. What the … no!”

“Shut up!”

“No!”

McFluffilstein opened the driver’s side door in the back.

“We need to make a sacrifice,” Miss Bennet said again.

“Shut up!” McFluffilstein screamed at her.

“No!” Fipps said to her.

“We need to!” Miss Bennet said.

“Enough with the sacrifice shit!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“We need to!” Miss Bennet said again.

“Enough with your Goth crap!”

“They want blood!”

“Stop with your Goth crap!”

“They want blood!”

“Stop with your Goth crap!”

“I’ve studied this!”

“Dude, blood?”

“Blood! Blood! Blood! Blood! Blood!”

“Oh God!”

“Stop!” McFluffilstein screamed.

He climbed out and his feet slid out from under him and he fell to the ground, sliding down under the open car door and into the creek at the bottom of the ditch. He started to climb out immediately.

“Dude,” Fipps said. “We can’t stay here anymore.”

He flung open the car door and carefully climbed out but also slipped, grabbing hold of the door but sliding down a little way. It was very muddy.

Miss Bennet climbed out of her side of the car and up to the level ground. There were some people wandering their way, possibly to help after hearing the car crash. Unfortunately, they all looked drunk and stumbled and shambled towards the car.

They’re probably not here to help, she thought.

The other two men climbed out of the muddy ditch. Miss Bennet slipped a multitool out of her pocket and opened up the knife blade, then made her way towards Fipps, who was pulling himself to his feet.

“Oh my God, Fredrick!” he cried. “She’s got a knife!”

“Crazy!” McFluffilstein shouted back. “Crazy woman!” Then he whispered: “I like it.”

Fipps ran away from Miss Bennet as McFluffilstein climbed up on the driver’s side. Fipps continued screaming for Fredrick, yelling she had a knife and was crazy, and ran in a large circle as Miss Bennet followed him saying “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

“No!” he cried.

“Calm down,” she said. “It’s okay.”

“You dummies!” McFluffilstein called. “We have t’ cut through the college and get t’ The Local!”

“I want to talk to you!” Miss Bennet called to Fipps as she ran after him. “I just want to talk to you!”

“No!” Fipps said, throwing Magic: The Gathering cards at the woman. “Take it! Take it! All of it!”

“I just want to talk to you!” she said. “I just want to talk to you!”

“No, leave me alone!” he cried.

“I just want to talk to you!” she insisted. “It’s okay!”

“Shut up!” McFluffilstein screamed.

Fipps had run in a wide circle and ended up by McFluffilstein again.

“No!” Fipps said to the woman. “No!”

“Lower it down!” McFluffilstein said. “Stop being a pansy. Let’s go.”

“It’s fine,” Miss Bennet said. “I just want to talk to you.”

“No!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“I want to talk to you,” she said again. “It’s cool. Like, …”

“I thought you were cool in high school but no!” he said. “Just no!”

“I just want to talk to you, though,” she said soothingly. “It’s okay.”

“No!” he said again.

“Hey, put the knife away,” McFluffilstein said as she approached. “Put the knife away.”

“No no no,” she replied. “It’s okay. It’s perfectly fine. It’s not a real knife.”

“No!” Fipps said.

“It’s fake,” she said.

“She’s lying!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “She’s crazy! She’s not as cool as I thought she was! No!”

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “It really is.”

He growled.

“I just want to talk to you,” she said.

“Guys, look at that!” McFluffilstein said.

He pointed to the large group of people walking slowly towards them.

“We need to go away from that,” he said.

“No, really, that’s why I want to talk to him,” she said.

“No!” Fipps replied, rubbing his nose.

“That’s why - let me just talk to him,” she said.

“No more Goth-emo shit!” Fipps said.

“Help me talk to him,” Miss Bennet said to McFluffilstein.

“Put. The knife. Away,” McFluffilstein said.

She did so, putting it into her pocketbook.

“Thank you!” he said.

“Can I talk to him now?” she asked, as she put her hand into her pocketbook with the knife.

“We can talk while we go that way!” McFluffilstein said.

“Can I talk to him now?” she asked. “Is it okay?”

“Hand out of the pocketbook!” McFluffilstein said.

Fipps was breathing heavily in terror.

“Can I talk to him?” she asked again.

“We’re walking,” McFluffilstein said. “Ye c’n talk to him. We’re walking that way!”

He pointed down Locust Street towards Plemmons Student Union.

“Dude, dude!” Fipps said. “Why don’t we just steal and Applecart or something? They’re always plugged up.”

“Okay,” Miss Bennet said sweetly. “We can talk about it later.”

“Crazy lady with the hot face!” McFluffilstein said. “Over here.”

He thought it arousing to threaten people with a knife. It was his one fetish.

“You’re not cool!” Fipps muttered, rubbing his nose.

They headed up the street, passing East Residence Hall and Sanford Hall. McFluffilstein noted they were heading for Howard Street, where The Local was located.

“I know where it is, man!” Fipps said. “Magic. The Mana Spot?”

He rubbed his nose and sniffed.

“Just … shut up!” McFluffilstein said.

As they approached Sanford Mall, they heard someone singing up ahead. Fipps was too nervous to notice as there were still many people around, stumbling from one place to another. Some seemed to notice them and walked slowly towards them. He also watched Miss Bennet very closely.

“Wild Thing!” the drunken voice ahead sang. “You make my heart swing! You make everything … groovy! Yeah!”

“Woo!” McFluffilstein called.

They heard confused talking as well and guessed it was at least two people. They soon spotted two young men standing by one of the statues out on the mall. They had stopped singing. Some of the dead started walking their direction. The two men looked like they were college students.

“Sacrifice them!” Fipps hissed at Miss Bennet.

She realized she knew the two young men. It was Kurt Leonard and Joshua Lemmons, a couple of nice guys. Kurt was a junior while Joshua was a sophomore. She had a class with each of them and thought they were both from South Carolina. The two were close friends and called themselves L&L or El and El as they both had last names began with the letter “L.” They thought it was cool. It wasn’t.

“Kill ‘em,” Fipps whispered, rubbing his nose.

“No!” Miss Bennet said.

“What should we do?” McFluffilstein said.

“No!” Miss Bennet said again.

“What should we do?” McFluffilstein said again.

“Oh, I know those guys,” Miss Bennet said. “Those guys were in my Gen-Ed, like, freshman year.”

“You remember them but not me?” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “Kill ‘em.”

“No no, they’re okay,” Miss Bennet said. “They’re okay.”

“Let’s sing Dixie,” one of them said.

“There’s a yellow rose in Texas!” the other started singing.

Miss Bennet headed over to the two while McFluffilstein picked up a nearby sandwich board advertising a concert or movie or something and headed over as well.

“Hey, do you have …” Miss Bennet said when she got there.

“Hey!” one of them said to her.

“Hey!” she said again.

She realized they were both extremely drunk. They stank of marijuana and there was an open Coleman cooler on the ground with several empty beer bottles around it.

“Do you want to help me out?” she asked.

“What’s yer name?” one of them asked.

“I’m Lisa,” she said.

“Lisa!” he said. “I’m sorry! I forgot!”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Yer so stupid, El!” the other one said.

“Shut up, El!” the first said.

They both giggled.

“Hey, do you wanna, like, help me out though?” she asked. “I need a little help.”

“Iunno,” one said. “Yeah. Whatta ya need?”

“I need−” she started to say.

“Somethin’ happened!” the other El suddenly said. “Did you see the meteor?”

“I did!” she said.

“That came down?” he went on. “It hit over there …”

He pointed to the southeast.

“I need your help for that,” she said. “Something bad’ll happen if you don’t help me.”

“Wha?” El said.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Wha?” other El said. “Like what? What’s gonna happen?”

“Well, you’ll probably die,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah!” El said. “They been acting weird ever since. We saw it hit and … and everybody fell down. They all fell down.”

“Yeah, really?” she said.

“But we didn’t fall down,” El went on.

“You didn’t fall down?” she said.

“No … uh … hold on,” El said.

He turned away and vomited violently into the grass.

“Oh damn,” he said.

“Lawsy,” McFluffilstein said.

“Whew!” El said.

“Sacrifice them,” Fipps hissed at Miss Bennet. “Sacrifice them to your gods!”

She looked over at him and McFluffilstein.

“I’m sorry,” El muttered. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Miss Bennet said. “It’s okay.”

McFluffilstein walked over with the sandwich board on his shoulder.

“Are you guys okay with, like, laying down?” she asked. “Is that … is that okay?”

“No!” the other El said.

“You can’t lay down?” she asked.

“No, these people are crazy!” he said. “We’ve had to relocate four times. These people keep, like, walking over. They want beers or something.”

“No no no,” she said. “They’ll be fine. They’re far away.”

“They want beers or something,” the other El said again.

“No, just lay down,” she said. “Just for a minute. It’s okay.”

“Boys,” McFluffilstein said. “Boys.”

“Just let her do it,” Fipps hissed at him.

“Hey, who’re you?” one of the Els asked.

“I work at the Local, you might have seen me,” McFluffilstein said. “I recognize you−”

“Shut up!” Miss Bennet said to him. “Sh!”

“He’s got a kilt on!” the other El said. “He’s cool!”

“Exactly,” McFluffilstein said. “C’n you tell me …”

“Just tell them to lay down,” Miss Bennet said.

“C’n ye tell me where the meteor struck again?” McFluffilstein said.

They pointed vaguely over Sanford Hall in the direction of Wendy’s, McFluffilstein guessed.

“Hey El!” one of them said.

“What, El?” the other replied.

“They’re comin’ and they’re gonna try to take our beer again,” El said. “We’re gonna have ta move again.”

“Wait,” McFluffilstein said.

“What?” El said.

“How about this?” McFluffilstein said. “Why don’t I give y’ this?”

He took out a little airplane bottle of Scotch whiskey. That got the two youths attention immediately.

“Why don’ y’ go back to yer dorms?” McFluffilstein said. “And I’ll give y’ this.”

“No no no,” Miss Bennet said. “Make them lay down.”

“Just let her do it!” Fipps hissed.

“Okay!” El said.

“Make them lay down!” Miss Bennet said. “Make them lay down! Can you guys lay down!”

El took the bottle.

“We’ll go back to our dorm, Mr. British man,” El said. “What?”

“Make sure you avoid all of the crazy people, ‘cause …” McFluffilstein said.

“They’re crazy?” one of the Els said.

“Before you go, lay down!” Fipps said.

“Lay down,” Miss Bennet said.

“Don’t listen to them,” McFluffilstein said.

“Lay down!” Miss Bennet said again.

“Shut up!” McFluffilstein said.

“Lay down! No!” Miss Bennet said. “You shut up!”

“Shut up!” McFluffilstein said again.

“You shut up!” she said.

“They’re the conservatives,” McFluffilstein said. “The crazy people walking around: they’re conservatives.”

“What?” El said.

“I like Bernie Sanders,” the other El said. “‘Cause he’s, like, a Jew, and I like Jews. I dated a Jew once.”

“Hey,” McFluffilstein said.

“Wha?” one of the Els said.

“If they get to you, they’re going to start talking about how Donald Trump should be president,” McFluffilstein said. “You don’t want that. You don’t want that at all.”

“He wears a wig, right?” one of the Els said.

“Could you lay down?” Miss Bennet suddenly said.

“Wha?” one of the Els said.

“Shut up!” McFluffilstein said.

Fipps was a little confused. Every single person they’d seen had seemed to be straight out of Dawn of the Dead except for the two drunk college students. It didn’t make any sense.

“What were you doing when you saw the meteor?” he asked the two.

“God, I was so wasted!” one of the Els said with a laugh. “We … we found some … we got all this Mary Jane and … El here …”

“Yeah El!” the other El said.

“Yeah El!” the first one said. “He said ‘Let’s do Mary Jane AND drink a bunch of beers.’ And now we got this - this whiskey, and - and then we c’n drink ‘em both and - and drink the beers and smoke the weed and … are you a cop? You have to tell me if you’re a cop.”

“I’m not a cop,” Fipps said.

“All right,” El said. “You’ve gotta tell me if you’re a cop.”

“No!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“Lay down,” Miss Bennet said again.

“Wait, Fredrick, we were drinking!” Fipps said.

“Go home!” McFluffilstein said to them.

“I’m dating somebody, Lisa!” one of the Els said to Miss Bennet.

“No no,” she replied. “Just lay down.”

McFluffilstein roared at Fipps and Miss Bennet, causing the Els to jump back in fear.

“Why d’n’t y’ go home, alright?” he said to the Els.

“All right,” one of them said. “What’s wrong with all these people?”

“They’re conservatives,” McFluffilstein lied again. “And they don’t believe in your stupid−”

“Stupid?” El said. “We’re not−”

“They’re gonna arrest you for weed!” Fipps said.

“Shit, let’s go!” El said.

“Avoid them!” Fipps said.

“No no, just lay down!” Miss Bennet said.

“Shut up!” McFluffilstein said.

The two young men grabbed their cooler and ran away.

“You have to know what to say to these people!” Fipps said, nervously eyeing the group of people stumbling towards them.

“Why didn’t you tell them to lay down?” Miss Bennet asked McFluffilstein.

“Because!” he said. “Your stupid, ****ing sacrifice idea will get−”

“No no!” she said. “That wasn’t what I was going to do at all!”

“I can read your face!” he said. “I’ve been a bouncer for ten years!”

“Thank you!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “She’s crazy!”

“She is!” McFluffilstein said.

“No!” Miss Bennet said. “Okay, well …”

“But I like that!” McFluffilstein said. “But I don’t care, but I like that! Let’s go to my apartment!”

“Well, okay, I don’t know if I’m down with going to your apartment,” Miss Bennet said. “I mean, that’s kind of personal.”

“I have a second car!”

“What?”

“I have a second car. I got my Prius for the daytime.”

“Around here?” Fipps asked, rubbing his nose.

“And I got my 1960 vintage pickup truck for the nighttime,” McFluffilstein said.

“Why do I care?” she said.

“We need a car to investigate the meteor,” he said.

“Can you lay him down?” she said quietly to him.

She slid a finger across her neck.

“Maybe later,” McFluffilstein whispered to her conspiratorially.

He thought she was flirting with him as he was turned on by strong, psychotic women.

They continued towards Howard Street and spotted several cars on the nearby streets. He stopped near one.

“Dude!” Fipps said. “If they’re older than 2006, I totally can hack that and make it work.”

“Thank you, creepy dude,” McFluffilstein said.

The Saturn sedan sitting in the street had unlocked doors. When he opened the driver’s side door, he saw someone sitting in the driver’s seat.

“God!” he muttered.

The man in the car turned and looked at him and then reached for McFluffilstein but was held in place by his seat belt and didn’t seem to know enough to get it off. McFluffilstein cursed and slammed the door shut, catching one of his hands on the outside and crushing it in the door.

“**** yeah!” he said.

They continued down Howard Street and found a bicycle out front of Magic Cycles shop, a bicycle shop. They broke the window and got into the place, stealing three 15-speed bikes.

They continued on down the street, following McFluffilstein, and saw the lights were on in the Mana Spot.

“I wanna go in,” Fipps muttered.

“Common nerds!” Miss Bennet said. “****ing nerds!”

“Oh God, that’s Ricky!” Fipps called. “Ricky.”

Ricky was obviously dead and trying to get out of the shop without luck.

Music and flashing lights played inside The Local, next door.

They turned right on Water Street, biking up to King Street and taking a left. The hill posed a bit of a problem and slowed them all down. McFluffilstein’s kilt flapped in the wind. All he was wearing underneath was a jock strap.

I’ve seen worse on DOTA, Fipps thought.

As they approached Galileo’s, they could see there was a crowd of people outside of the place.

“**** them,” McFluffilstein said to himself. “**** them.”

He flipped them off as he biked past as quickly as possible. The people saw them and started wandering out into the street. The hill was a problem, slowing them all down. Fipps, fueled by fear, kept going but Miss Bennet started falling behind, running out of breath.

She’s my love, McFluffilstein thought when he noticed. My life.

“Hey!” he screamed to get the zombie’s attention. “Hey! Crazy zombies!”

It worked. They turned away from Fipps and Miss Bennet and started to shamble up the road towards him. One man burst out of the group and ran after the lead bike, his hands down by his sides, flailing around.

“****!” McFluffilstein cried.

He flipped off the guy and tried to increase his speed. The uphill made it hard.

“It’s Walking Dead zombies!” Fipps cried.

The dead-eyed man sprinted at McFluffilstein and flung himself at the man and his bike, but fell short and crashed to the ground in the middle of the road.

“**** you!” McFluffilstein yelled, flipping the man off again and trying to get more speed on the incline.

Fipps rode directly at the man on the road, intending on riding over him. When the front wheel struck him, the man rolled over and grabbed the wheel with both hands. The spinning wheel chopped off all of the man’s fingers but his mangled hands stopped the front wheel and the bike and Fipps crashed to the ground. Miss Bennet angled to the right and rode around them.

“****!” McFluffilstein cried.

“Sacrifice,” Miss Bennet mumbled. “Sacrifice.”

McFluffilstein turned around and headed back for Fipps. The fallen man leaned forward and bit Fipps in the upper thigh, ripping out a large chunk of flesh.

“Jesus!” Fipps screamed.

He grabbed the man by the head, hoping to gouge out his eyes without luck, instead scrabbling frantically and ineffectively at his face with both hands. McFluffilstein leapt from his bicycle and tried to head stomp the man but ended up kicking him with a glancing blow instead.

Miss Bennet, biking up the road, started mumbling sacrifice hymns from her occult group.

The man stood up and tried to bite McFluffilstein, snapping ineffectively at the man.

“Run!” McFluffilstein yelled at Fipps.

Fipps screamed as he stood up.

“Oh my God!” he cried. “We did this … in Call of Duty.”

He ripped his shirt and formed a makeshift bandage, wrapping it around his upper leg to try to stop the bleeding. It was not very effective.

McFluffilstein, meanwhile, elbowed the other man in the face. Teeth flew out of the man’s mouth. The man continued to tried to bite the Scotsman again but he held the horrible man off. Fipps limped to his bike.

“Where’s your house?” he called.

“Keep going!” McFluffilstein yelled. “It’s Teal Door!”

Fipps headed up the hill in great pain.

McFluffilstein grabbed the man by the ears and slammed his face into his knee. He heard the man’s nose snap as it was crushed into his skull but it didn’t seem to slow the man down at all. The man tried to bite him again with what was left of his teeth but stumbled. McFluffilstein noticed more of the people shambling towards him so he shoved the man back, knocking him down, and ran to his bike, picking it up and heading up the hill. His attacker climbed to his feet and ran after him, pounding up the hill after the Scotsman. He flipped off the man in terror.

McFluffilstein caught up to the others just as they reached Teal Door, Fipps having to call to Miss Bennet when she went by the place. Teal Door was a small apartment complex on the corner of North Carolina 321 and Oak Grove Road. Unfortunately, the running man was still close behind them. McFluffilstein dumped the bicycle right outside his first floor apartment and ran in the unlocked front door. He had a pistol in the kitchen though he was not sure exactly where it was.

“Holy shit!” Fipps yelled. “Where is the gun!?!”

The man who followed McFluffilstein ran to Miss Bennet, who fled into the apartment with Fipps right behind her. They passed McFluffilstein in the doorway. He had a baseball bat in his hand and the running dead man tried to bite him but he swung the baseball bat at the man’s head. There was a snap and the man’s head dropped to his shoulder but he didn’t fall. The blow had broken away a chunk of his skull as well.

This guy won’t ****ing go! he thought.

“Oh my God!” Fipps cried.

The apartment had a kitchenette to the right and a living room straight ahead. It looked like there were bedrooms to the left. There were windows in the back. It smelled like cinnamon inside.

“Where’s your gun?” Fipps yelled.

“In the kitchen!” McFluffilstein cried out.

“Why did we come here?” Miss Bennet said, confused. “What is here?”

“Gun!” Fipps cried, looking for the gun. “Gun! Gun! Gun!”

He spotted a knife holder and grabbed the butcher knife out of it.

The man tried to bite McFluffilstein again but he held him off. He swung again, this time the other way, and managed to knock the man’s head right off his shoulders. Blood oozed out of the man’s ragged neck and the body fell to the ground. McFluffilstein shoved the body out of the door and closed and locked it. He quickly closed the curtains in the kitchen.

“All right, guys,” McFluffilstein said. “Oi got five.”

“Where’s the gun?” Fipps said.

“Oi got five!” McFluffilstein said. “Give me a moment!”

“Give me a gun!” Miss Bennet said. “I want a gun.”

McFluffilstein went to the front bedroom, which had a Scottish flag on the one wall and a Braveheart poster on another. There was Scottish memorabilia in the room, including a claymore mounted on one wall. He pushed the Scottish flag aside. A semi-automatic pistol was taped to the wall behind it. He handed it to Fipps.

“Ammo?” the man asked, removing the magazine and checking the weapon’s load. “Thank you Call of Duty.”

McFluffilstein went to the kitchen and fiddled around a little. Under the sink he had another pistol tucked away. He handed it off to Miss Bennet. Then McFluffilstein went into the living room and reached under the couch, producing another handgun. He finally went into his bedroom and retrieved another from his nightstand and another from under the sink in the bathroom.

“Fredrick?” Fipps said. “Ammo?”

McFluffilstein bumped his dresser and a small secret compartment opened. He pulled out an extra seven magazines for the guns.

He showed Miss Bennet how to eject the magazine from the pistol, going behind her and putting his arms around her. He leaned up close against her.

He peeked out the front window and could see a couple of people wandering around in the parking lot.

“Guys, we need to go for … the lesson,” he whispered to the other two.

He took out his DVD of Zombieland and put it into the DVD player.

“Oh my God, I love that movie!” Fipps said.

“I know!” McFluffilstein said. “We need Tallahassee.”

“Tallahassee’s the one!” Fipps said. “He’s my favorite one!”

“You guys need to learn how to deal with the zombie apocalypse,” McFluffilstein said.

Miss Bennet rolled her eyes.

“Lock the door!” Fipps said. “Barricade the windows. Dude! Dude, I’ve seen this movie. We need to barricade the windows.”

They barricaded the windows first, using furniture and such to block all of the other windows to the apartment. They watched the beginning of the movie with the volume down low and subtitles on. McFluffilstein wanted them to all know the rules and felt it important to watch. He made them watch the first 30 minutes or so of the movie and they learned the first 33 rules. The most important ones included: Cardio, you have to be able to run; the double-tap, even when you hit ‘em once, you’ve got to hit them again - don’t be stingy on the bullets; beware of bathrooms, when in a sensitive situation, at the most vulnerable; wear seat belts cause you don’t know when you’ll run over a zombie; no attachments; and many, many more, including enjoy the little things.

When they turned off the movie and switched back to the cable, it was set on one of the Charlotte stations. An announcer was talking about the meteorite that fell.

“Scientists have just determined that we’re passing through an entire swarm of these meteors,” the man said. “So, look to the skies everyone, because you’re going to see not hundreds, but thousands of meteors coming to earth tonight. It’ll be a beautiful spectacle. At first we thought it was only going to hit the northern Americas, but it looks like it’ll be hitting America, China, India, Europe, Great Britain. In fact, the whole world will be hit and it’ll be beautiful to see these lovely, lovely meteors, so go out and watch them and have a nice evening.”

They could see flashes of light outside, even through the closed curtains.

“We’re ****ed,” McFluffilstein said.

Fipps groaned.

“Hey, none o’ that pansy shit,” McFluffilstein said in suck a thick accent that neither of the others could understand him.

“What?” Fipps said.

McFluffilstein said it again, more slowly, but they still couldn’t understand him.

“No poems?” Miss Bennet said.

“What?” McFluffilstein said.

“No poems or shit?” she said. “Is that what you were saying because I couldn’t understand you.”

“Guys!” McFluffilstein said.

“What?” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“I have the keys to my pickup truck,” McFluffilstein said. “It’s fully loaded, full of gas, because I am very conscientious about keeping my cars gassed up.”

“Water?” Fipps said. “Food? Feminine stuff?”

“Now, we just need to make a sacrifice to the almighty and then we will be okay,” Miss Bennet said. “Sacrifice.”

They started to load the pickup truck with everything they could take from the apartment. As they went out with loads of goods, they saw dozens if not hundreds of meteors in the night sky in every direction. Fipps moaned every time he saw them.

“I’ve been bitten!” he moaned at one point.

“You have?” McFluffilstein said.

“What?” Miss Bennet said. “Excuse me?”

“Can’t be your sacrifice now, huh?” Fipps said to her, rubbing his nose.

“You stay here, watch the fort, and we’ll be going on our way,” McFluffilstein said to him.

“No!” Fipps said.

“All right,” McFluffilstein said.

He attempted to perform first aid on the wound. It was very nasty.

“Lisa, can you help?” Fipps asked the woman. “Please?”

“I’ll help you,” she said with a grin.

“Crazy ***** that I love so much, stop,” McFluffilstein said. “Stop. I will sacrifice my life f’r you, but not in that way.”

“So, just lay down,” Miss Bennet said. “Just lay down. Just lay down.”

“Can you take a zombie?” McFluffilstein said.

“Just lay down,” she said.

“Wait, are you flirting with me?” he said.

“Lay down,” she said.

“All right, take me!” he said, laying down on his bed. “My body is ready.”

Miss Bennet took out the multitool and tried to slit the man’s throat with the blade but he easily held her off.

“Feisty, I love it!” McFluffilstein said.

She tried to cut his throat again but he had little trouble holding her off and grabbed her arm. She struggled to get free and he tried to get the knife out of her hand. She continued to struggle against him and then he squeezed her wrist hard enough to make her drop the multitool. He leaned in to kiss the woman but she broke free of his grasp and ran away.

“Hard to get,” he said. “I like it.”

He picked up the multitool and tucked it away.

“This relationship is worse than Kefka and Terra from Final Fantasy VI,” Fipps muttered.

“What the **** are you talking about?” Miss Bennet said.

“He gets it,” Fipps said, gesturing at McFluffilstein.

“No, he doesn’t,” she said.

“Yeah, he does,” he said.

“No, he doesn’t,” she said.

“Aw, damn,” Fipps said.

“All right, as much as I love this foreplay, we’ve got t’ get goin’,” McFluffilstein said.

“Can I have my knife back?” Miss Bennet asked him.

“No,” he said.

“Please?” she said.

“Maybe,” he said. “We gotta head towards−”

“Bonnie and Clyde: Let’s go!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose.

“We gotta head towards the meteor,” McFluffilstein said.

“No!” Miss Bennet said.

“We got to find out what is wrong,” McFluffilstein said.

“It’s turning people into zombies!” Miss Bennet said.

“You could sacrifice it to your god,” Fipps said.

“I need to sacrifice someone who hasn’t been bitten,” she said, looking at McFluffilstein meaningfully.

“What?” he said. “What if we can find a cure? Through the meteor.”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Well, I’m driving,” he said.

“We need to make a sacrifice.”

“All right, you can stay here.”

“We need to make a sacrifice.”

“In my apartment. And lay on my bed. I’m okay with that.”

“We …”

“Or you can come with me and I’m going to the meteor.”

“We need to make a sacrifice.”

“Well you’re staying in my bed, it looks like.”

“A sacrifice.”

“You can sacrifice your vagina to my love machine.”

“Blood of the hymen,” Fipps muttered, rubbing his nose. “Not gonna happen.”

“Human blood,” Miss Bennet said. “Human flesh. Sacrifice. I will need your blood. Knife. It was foretold in the stars.”

“All right, I’m goin’ to the car,” McFluffilstein said.

He walked out the door and saw a police cruiser roar into town with the sirens blaring and lights flashing. Miss Bennet came out.

“Can I have my knife back?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

He climbed into the driver’s seat. The other two slid into the cab.

McFluffilstein took the back roads back to the 105 Bypass, taking it to 105 and into town. Fipps pointed out the National Guard armory was over on State Farm Road and if they could get one of their trucks, HMMWVs didn’t need keys. He remembered playing a tabletop game wherein a zombie apocalypse happened in Boone, though the GM had sucked.

They didn’t see any people on the back roads or 105 bypass, almost as if whatever had happened might not have affected that part of town, and reached 105 without incident. They started seeing more people in the streets once they got further into town. There was too many people on 105 before they even got to Wendy’s so they turned and headed down Wilson Drive, taking the back roads, turning right on Greenway Road. However, when they got close to Wal-Mart, they saw the parking lot was packed full of people. McFluffilstein turned at Hunan Chinese to try to cut through the parking lot but there were several cars blocking the way and the zombies were thick there.

It seemed there were just too many people in the area. McFluffilstein turned around and headed back down Leola Drive up to Pride Drive, trying to make their way through the old K-Mart parking lot. The way was blocked by people and parked cars there too, though.

They headed back to Leola Drive, driving down to Meadowview and headed for Blowing Rock Road again. There wasn’t an excess of people there so they crossed Blowing Rock road and headed up Shadowline on the left. As they drove up Shadowline Road, they saw a couple of the buildings were on fire. Just the other side of State Farm Road, there appeared to be a crater where there used to be a small office building just east of the intersection.

“What?” McFluffilstein said.

“Don’t we want to have an armored vehicle?” Fipps said.

“Armored vehicles are for pussies!” McFluffilstein said. “I am a Scotsman!”

“Scots are underneath the Brits for a reason!” Fipps said. “You guys failed your independence!”

McFluffilstein got out of the truck and looked towards the meteorite. There were many zombies around but they had parked where there weren’t many.

“What are you doing?” Fipps hissed at the man.

“That’s very stupid,” Miss Bennet said. “That’s really stupid. That’s really, really dumb.”

“Guys!” McFluffilstein hissed.

“What the **** are you doing!?!” Fipps called.

McFluffilstein slipped back.

“Have you seen Shaun of the Dead?” he asked.

“Sacrifice,” Miss Bennet whispered very quietly to Fipps.

“Sh,” McFluffilstein said.

“We should sacrifice him,” Miss Bennet whispered.

“Don’t talk dirty to him,” McFluffilstein said. “You’ve seen Shaun of the Dead, right?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen it,” Fipps said.

“You remember how they got to the bar?” McFluffilstein said. He hissed like a zombie.

“Sacrifice him,” Miss Bennet said to Fipps again. Then to McFluffilstein: “Can I have my knife?”

They decided to act like zombies to try to get closer to the meteorite. The zombies didn’t moan but they moved like they were very drunk, so the three of them did the same. Fipps turned out to be the best at it of all of them and he got the closest. A few of the zombies looked at Miss Bennet and McFluffilstein but Fipps really made a believable zombie, which was a little disturbing, especially since he’d been bitten.

They made it to the edge of the crater and could see the car-sized meteorite at the bottom of it. A large crowd of people were clustered near the meteorite. Each would rub it with their hands a little and then wander away as more came to take their place and do the same thing. The ones that walked away appeared to have some kind of dust on their hands. The meteorite made a strange, high-pitched humming noise.

“I’m going to go up to it,” McFluffilstein whispered.

“I wanna touch it,” Fipps said.

“Don’t touch it wi’ y’r bare hands,” McFluffilstein said.

“Why not?” Fipps asked.

“‘Cause it could infect you,” McFluffilstein said.

“I’m already ****ing bitten,” Fipps said.

“Yes, but we don’t want you more bitten,” McFluffilstein said. “All right, I’m gonna go up there like another one of them guys and then I’m gonna take a piece of my fabric off my kilt and rub it against it and then we’re gonna go test it.”

“How do we test it?” Fipps said.

“University, ya dumb nut!” McFluffilstein said.

“Dude, there’s so many things there,” Fipps said. “Use the armory.”

“‘Cause we can save the entire human race!” McFluffilstein whispered.

“Dude, the armory’s right ****ing there!” Fipps said.

“The entire human race,” McFluffilstein said.

“National. Guard of the Army. Base,” Fipps said. “Is right over there!”

“Okay, we can go there first,” McFluffilstein said. “But can we go to the university after that?”

“Who knows what’s in there?” Fipps said. “We can actually test it in there! Who knows?”

“Sacrifice,” Miss Benet whispered.

“Shut it,” McFluffilstein said.

“Sacrifice,” she whispered again.

“Stop talking sexy,” McFluffilstein said to her. “It’s important to stay in character. Stop.”

“Sacrifice,” she said again.

“Could you just stop!” Fipps said, rubbing his nose. “You can do it later.”

“You’re turning me on!” McFluffilstein whispered.

“We can do it tomorrow!” Fipps whispered.

“No,” she whispered. “There won’t be a tomorrow.”

“I can promise you, there will be a tomorrow,” he said.

“There will be no tomorrow,” she whispered.

“Lisa, stow it.”

Fipps shoved her towards McFluffilstein.

“Hello,” Miss Bennet said seductively.

“Hello,” McFluffilstein replied in kind.

“You’ve got something in your pocket,” she said.

“I do,” he replied. “It’s happy to see you.”

“Can I have it?”

“Yes, you can.”

He fiddled with his kilt. She reached into his pocket in hope of finding the knife. He thought she was reaching for something else.

“Feisty!” he grinned.

She grabbed the knife and he grabbed her hand.

“We can’t do this here!” he whispered to her.

Fipps rolled his eyes.

“We can’t do this here,” McFluffilstein Whispered again.

“Yes, we can,” she said.

“No, we can’t,” he whispered.

“Yes, we can,” she whispered.

She jerked her hand back with the knife, breaking free.

“Sexy,” he whispered to her.

She tried to slash his throat but he was able to easily get away.

“Oh!” he said with a smile. “Let’s leave that to the bedroom, huh, honeycakes?”

She tried to slash his throat again without luck.

“Mmm,” he whispered. “Feisty!”

Fipps, meanwhile, tore off a piece of his shirt and shuffled down to the meteorite. The other two didn’t notice him.

McFluffilstein grabbed Miss Bennet by the hand again but she broke free. He grabbed her hand again and then took the knife from the young woman. He tucked it back into his kilt.

“That’s for later, sweetcakes,” he said.

They realized that Fipps was halfway down to the meteor. McFluffilstein shuffled towards him. Fipps got close to the zombie crowd and was able to fake being dead long enough to rub the cloth on the meteor for a few moments. Then he shuffled back up to the other two. When McFluffilstein saw him coming, he also turned around.

The three slipped out of the crater and got into the truck again. They headed for the National Guard Armory but when they got onto Hunting Lane, they saw the area around the building was filled with zombies. McFluffilstein turned the truck around and they made their way back to Blowing Rock Road and headed for Blowing Rock.

More shooting stars fell from the sky above. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1949-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Three
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Two http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1948-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Two Thu, 27 Aug 2015 02:02:55 GMT Tuesday, August 25, 2015 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Nissa Campbell, Joey Scott, Kyle... Tuesday, August 25, 2015

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Nissa Campbell, Joey Scott, Kyle Matheson, and James Brown Thursday, August 20, 2015, from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.)

Sofia Rosita Mariana Fernando Vasquez II Junior was driving Floyd Wayne’s pickup truck down Blowing Rock Road from King Street. Jaiwan Jayshawn Skadooter was in the bed of the truck. Jorman Flanagan followed behind in his Audi. Miss Vasquez was heading for the hospital on the other side of town in the hopes of treating Wayne, who was finally coming around after the shock of having his hand blown off by Yaboi Fugly’s stolen shotgun after he’d gotten bit by some crazy girl on King Street. The tourniquet on the end of his left arm was wet with blood. He looked over at Miss Vasquez, who was driving, concentrating on the road.

They noticed there were more people wandering around as they headed down Blowing Rock Road. Most were on the sidewalk, stumbling as if they were drunk. The pickup reached the intersection of Blowing Rock Road and 105 where several cars sat though the light was green. Miss Vasquez didn’t even slow down from 50 miles per hour as she weaved through. As she swerved into the left-turn lane to avoid the car in the left lane of traffic, the pickup truck scraped the side of the vehicle.

“Aw, what the hell!?!” Skadooter screamed.

He was sitting in the bed and suddenly found himself sliding around, crashing into the sides. Several tools and tool boxes slid around, slamming into him.

“What the ****!?!” he cried.

The pickup swerved, the back coming around to the left, but Miss Vasquez turned into the swerve and regained control. She turned hard to the right to avoid the vehicles stopped in oncoming traffic ahead and got back into the correct lane as they passed Wendy’s.

“Sit down, chico!” Miss Vasquez yelled.

“Aw!” Skadooter cried. “God!”

“Brace yourself!” Miss Vasquez yelled. “What are you doing back there?”

“Brace yourself?” Wayne said.

“Dios Mio!” Miss Vasquez said.

She slowed down to about 45 miles per hour.

Behind the pickup truck, Flanagan’s Audi easy passed the parked vehicle Vasquez had hit. However, he misjudged the distance he had to pull back into the lane. The left front of his Audi struck the car stopped in the far left turn lane of oncoming traffic at roughly 50 miles per hour. Flanagan lost control and the car spun out.

Miss Vasquez heard the crash and looked into the rearview mirror. She was surprised to see Flanagan’s car spinning around behind them, the headlights shining on them and then gone and then back again. She slowed the pickup truck, taking her foot off the gas and putting the vehicle into neutral.

“What the … Hell?” Skadooter yelled.

“Hey, how you doing?” Miss Vasquez said to Wayne. “You feeling sick?”

* * *

Flanagan’s Audi stalled in the street. He started it again and saw the left side in the front was crumpled. The airbags had surprisingly not deployed. The engine rattled badly and people started to stumble in his direction. The car he’d clipped had rolled back into the car behind it. A hatchback was behind both of them. He saw another sedan on the opposite lane, out of range of the destruction.

He quickly climbed out of his Audi and headed towards the hatchback.

* * *

Wayne felt like he was coming out of a dream.

“Where are we?” he asked Miss Vasquez. “What are we doing? What’s going on?”

Miss Vasquez watched the rearview mirror again.

“Hold on,” she said.

She slammed the brake and turned the wheel hard. The pickup swerved, spinning around further than she had planned before it came to a stop with a bang from under the truck. It sounded like one of the tires had blown.

“Oh shit,” Skadooter muttered.

“This is my work truck,” Wayne muttered. “There are tools and shit in the back.”

When they stopped, the truck stalled and it felt lower in the front on the driver’s side. Miss Vasquez started the engine. In the bed, Skadooter picked up the shovel and banged on the cab.

“Get inside the cab!” Miss Vasquez called.

“What the hell is going on!?!” Skadooter screamed through the window in the back of the cab.

“Get inside the cab!” Miss Vasquez said. “Or get out.”

“Can you crawl inside the window?” Wayne said.

“But get inside the cab!” Miss Vasquez said.

“I’m too big,” Skadooter said. “I’m gonna have to get out and get in.”

“I didn’t say go through the window,” Miss Vasquez said.

“He did!” Skadooter said, pointing at Wayne.

“So I have to get out and let you in?” Wayne said.

“No, just−” Miss Vasquez said, grabbing Wayne’s arm as he opened his car door.

“I’m tired of getting thrown around back here!” Skadooter said.

Skadooter climbed out of the bed and tapped on the passenger side door.

“Doot doot, let me in!” he said.

Wayne pulled himself free of Miss Vasquez’s arm, her nails scratching his arm.

“****!” Wayne said. “Jesus!”

“Don’t get outside!” she said. “Get in! Just push him in!”

Wayne got out, turned, reached for the seat with his missing left hand, cursed and thought better of it, and then reached forward with his right hand and worked the control behind the seat, pushing it forward. There was space in the back of the cab with a couple of fold-down seats.

“In the back?” Skadooter said.

Skadooter in. He didn’t usually ride in the back.

“Get in the ****ing truck or I’m going to leave you here!” Miss Vasquez said.

“Skadooter don’t get in the back,” he said as he started to climb in.

“Get in the ****ing back!” Wayne yelled.

The man did so. Wayne pushed the seat back and climbed in, closing the door behind him. Vasquez put the truck into gear and turned back towards Flanagan’s Audi. The vehicle pulled hard to the left as the driver’s side front tire had blown. She compensated.

* * *

Flanagan ran over to the hatchback in the left turn lane. He tried to get the driver’s door open but it proved to be locked. All of the windows were closed and the vehicle was not running. He squinted and could see someone in the driver’s seat. The man turned to him and started to scratch at the glass. People stumbled towards him from the sidewalks on either side.

He ran past the two other cars in the left-turn lane to the older-model 90’s Buick the next lane over. The door was not locked and he flung it open. A man was strapped into the driver’s seat and hardly had time to turn towards Flanagan before he drew a stiletto from his belt and slammed it into the man’s temple. There was a snapping noise and the man went limp.

He was disappointed to see that the man was belted into the seat but the other people wandering his way were too close. He climbed in on top of the dead body, dropping the stiletto in the passenger seat, pulled the door closed, and started the car. It was a tight fit but he managed it. He pulled onto 105, making a u-turn and headed towards the hospital.

He spotted a pickup truck coming from the opposite direction, the front driver’s side tire obviously flat.

* * *

Miss Vasquez, Wayne, and Skadooter headed back for the intersection and spotted the older Buick coming their way in the other lane.

“Where’re we going?” Skadooter said.

“I need to get him to the hospital, but then we lost the Jorman kid,” Miss Vasquez quickly said. “And now we … we … I just don’t know what to do.”

“We lost the German kid?” Wayne said.

“Are you gonna take it a little slower?” Skadooter said. “You driving too damn fast!”

Miss Vasquez honked the horn and the window of the Buick went down. They saw Flanagan in the other car. She reached down and turned the handle on the door to open the window.

“The car is busted, can we ride with …” Miss Vasquez said.

She saw Flanagan he was atop someone.

“This is Frank!” Flanagan said. “Ignore him.”

“Is Frank, like, your boyfriend?” Skadooter asked.

“Why is he leaking out of the head with blood?” Miss Vasquez called.

“He’s not doing so well,” Flanagan said.

“Hey Frank!” Skadooter called.

He waved.

Flanagan reached down to get the seat belt off the dead man.

“Well, our car’s busted, we need to get this guy to the hospital,” Miss Vasquez said. “But down the road it looks like there’s more of these guys walking around.”

“Let’s get somewhere safe,” Flanagan called.

“There … okay, but the hospital was my idea,” Miss Vasquez said.

Flanagan made a strange “Bizuu” noise.

“I ain’t seen people this stupid since I won the championship,” Skadooter said, looking at the people wandering in the street.

“All right, well, do you mind if I drive them?” Miss Vasquez asked.

“Sure!” Flanagan said.

“All right,” Miss Vasquez said. “Help me get this kid over there.”

“What’re we doing?” Skadooter said.

“Into his car,” Miss Vasquez said.

“You’re going to his?” Wayne asked.

“Yeah,” Miss Vasquez said. “The car, the wheel’s−”

“You can’t just leave this truck in the middle of the road!” Skadooter said.

“All right, then you push it off to the side,” Miss Vasquez said.

Wayne chose to ignore the young man.

“All I know is we need to get you to a medic,” Miss Vasquez said. “But it looks like the further we go down the more of those things there are. I don’t know if there’s more down that way but we need to make sure.”

Wayne looked at the tourniquet on his wrist. It was soaked with blood and there was plenty on the seat beside him as well.

“So, we just need to basically close this off and cauterize the end of it?” he muttered.

“Are you saying you want to go to fire?” Miss Vasquez said.

“Yeah,” Wayne said. “If we can’t make to the - I just - I just want the blood to stop.”

“Yo, I saw coach do that one time,” Skadooter said.

Wayne talked about opening the hood and using the heat from the engine to cauterize the wound.

“If you unwrap it, you’re just going to bleed out even faster,” Miss Vasquez said.

“Yo,” Skadooter said. “There’s a hospital like right there though. We could just like swerve around these people.”

“I think that would be the best course of action first,” Miss Vasquez said.

“Hospital?” Wayne said.

“We need to move, people!” Flanagan called.

“These people are still just partying from the championship,” Skadooter said.

He referred to a game that had taken place some months before.

“People get wild in this town,” he muttered.

“I just want to get this nub taken care of,” Wayne muttered.

Miss Vasquez got out of the truck and crossed to the passenger side, helping Wayne out and walking him to the Buick. Skadooter got out as well and looked into the bed. There were two toolboxes, a shovel, a mattock, and a long iron bar. He picked up the heavy mattock and headed for the Buick.

“Just in case any of these guys try to **** with us,” he said.

Flanagan dragged the dead body out of the car and dumped it in the street. Miss Vasquez went around the car and got Wayne into the passenger seat. Skadooter climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Doot doot, I’m drivin,’” he said.

“Can you drive?” Flanagan asked.

Skadooter nodded at him. Flanagan pulled the seat forward and climbed into the back seat. Skadooter climbed back into the driver’s seat.

“Hey hombre, get out!” Miss Vasquez said to Skadooter. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Hombre?” Wayne muttered.

“What is this, Blazing Saddles?” Flanagan quipped.

“Yo, I’m drivin,’” Skadooter said.

“No, you’re not,” Miss Vasquez said.

“Why?” Skadooter said.

“‘Cause you are drunk as ****,” Miss Vasquez said.

“Doot doot, I’m always drunk.”

“Doot doot, I don’t give a damn. Now get out of my ****ing seat before I rip you one!”

“Damn girl! All right.”

Skadooter climbed out of the car.

“Get in the back seat,” Miss Vasquez said.

He climbed into the back seat, pushing Flanagan over. Miss Vasquez got in and closed the door. The people walking from the sidewalks reached the car just as the doors closed. They started trying to get in, scraping and scratching at the windows.

“Ew!” Miss Vasquez said when she sat in the blood in the driver’s seat.

“Let’s go!” Wayne said, banging on the dashboard.

Skadooter looked scared

“I’m bleeding out!” Wayne said. “Let’s go!”

She put the car in gear and headed down Blowing Rock Road towards the hospital.

“Wait, you’re bleeding out?” Skadooter said, confused.

Wayne held up the nub of his left arm.

“What the **** happened to your hand!?!” Flanagan said drunkenly.

“Oh shit!” Skadooter said.

“One of these *******s bit me!” Wayne said.

“Just another Skadooter party, am I right?” Skadooter said. “High five bro!”

He and Flanagan exchanged a high five as Miss Vasquez got her speed up to about 40 miles per hour. By the time they got to where K-Mart used to be, they could see several people had wandered into the street. Skadooter rolled down the little window in the back and stuck his head out.

“Doot doot!” he called.

As he passed several people, they reached out, trying to grab his head as Miss Vasquez swerved between them.

“Shit!” he cried.

One of them hit him in the face with a hand. It hurt like a *****.

“Augh!” he screamed. “What the ****!?!”

He pulled his head back in and found himself bleeding from the scratch the woman had made on his face.

“What the ****?” he said again.

The crowd got worse near Wal-Mart, a little further down Blowing Rock Road but Miss Vasquez got them through to the other side. She took a left on Longvue Road, which was a backstreet shortcut to the Watauga Medical Center. She noticed a single car driving down Blowing Rock Road very slowly from the other direction as they left the street. Longvue was completely empty and they got to Deerfield Road and crossed it to the hospital parking lot.

She drove right up to the Emergency Room Entrance and stopped the car. She looked around but didn’t see anyone in the immediate vicinity. Wayne opened the passenger door.

“Heyo, stay in here,” Miss Vasquez said. “Let me check and make sure everything’s okay.”

“I don’t care,” Wayne muttered.

He climbed out of the car.

“I need to stop this!” he said, gesturing towards his arm.

“Yo, me first!” Skadooter said. “I got to get someone to look at this.”

“What are you? El stupido?” Miss Vasquez said.

She got out.

“Oy!” she called to Wayne, who stumbled towards the Emergency Room doors. “Sit down!”

Behind her, Skadooter and Flanagan got out of the car as well, Flanagan muttering something about staying in one spot not being safe. Miss Vasquez rushed to the Emergency Room door in an effort to get there before Wayne.

“Americans don’t listen,” she muttered under her breath. “This is why patriarchal systems are stupid.”

Skadooter ran for the doors, trying to beat everyone.

“Everyone should listen to me ‘cause I’m mad hot,” she muttered.

As Skadooter passed Miss Vasquez, she stuck out her foot. Skadooter saw it and tried to jump over it but tripped. He crashed to the concrete face-first. There was a loud crack. He dropped the mattock.

“Oh shit!” he screamed.

“Dios mio,” Miss Vasquez said quietly.

“You broke his skull!” Flanagan said.

Wayne walked by them.

“You kids done playing?” he said. “****ing kids.”

Miss Vasquez stopped to check on Skadooter.

“Oh ****!” Skadooter said.

He rolled over and then tried to push his broken nose back into the correct position. There was another snap and it was amazingly painful.

“How’s it look?” he muttered.

His eyes rolled back and his head fell back onto the concrete.

“Jorman,” Miss Vasquez said. “Jorman, can you bring him in? We need to go see if he can get some …”

“What the ****?”Flanagan said.

The doors opened as Wayne entered the hospital. Flanagan examined Skadooter. He realized the man had a broken nose.

* * *

The entrance to the emergency room had several chairs on the left. There were four small offices with glass fronts to the left further in. Directly ahead were large double doors he guessed led to the actual emergency room. A receptionist desk stood on the right, next to the doors. He went to the front desk but, of course, no one was there.

The doors opened as Miss Vasquez entered.

Wayne stumbled to the double doors marked “Emergency Only” but they wouldn’t open. He pounded on them and tried to push them open. They seemed to give a little, each time with a hum, as if they were held closed by powerful magnets.

Miss Vasquez looked into the tiny offices and saw two of them were occupied by people face down on the desks. She knocked on the window of the nearest one. The woman with her head down on the desk sat up drunkenly. A moment later, her eyes seemed to focus on Miss Vasquez. She stood up unevenly and Miss Vasquez pulled her pistol out of her bra where she hid it.

“The people here are no good,” she said.

“What do you mean?” Wayne called as he continued to try to get into the emergency room.

“Like that girl that bit you,” Miss Vasquez said.

The woman in the office bumped into the desk, looked down, and then climbed over it, knocking aside paperwork and the computer monitor. Miss Vasquez aimed at the woman as she clumsily came over the desk.

“What do I do?” Wayne said when he looked over and saw the gun.

Then he saw the woman coming over the desk.

“Shoot her!” he said. “Shoot the *****!”

“Get back to the car,” Miss Vasquez said. “We can’t stay here.”

She blasted the woman in the head, which jerked backwards, blood splattering all over the desk and back wall. The glass in the wall behind the desk shattered. The woman went down in a heap on the floor in front of the desk. The gunshot seemed terribly loud.

“Shit!” Wayne said. “What do they have behind the counter?”

“Nothing,” Miss Vasquez said a little loudly. Her ears were ringing. “There won’t be medications there. They’ll be in the back.”

“They won’t even have a basic medikit behind the desk?” Wayne asked.

“Probably not,” Miss Vasquez said.

She went into the small desk and tucked her gun away. She looked on the desk for something sharp but saw nothing. She leaned over the desk and pulled open a drawer. She found a letter opener and a pair of scissors. Wayne stumbled over to the small room and got a nice look at her ass, sticking up in the air as she looked at the drawer beyond. The woman was wearing tight jeggings.

Yum, Wayne thought, staring.

“What else is there?” he muttered, staring at her ass. “Maybe there are other drawers.”

* * *

Outside, Flanagan saw Miss Vasquez shoot a woman and then woke Skadooter up by slapping his face lightly.

“Bro, I had a dream about an elephant who could fly,” Skadooter mumbled. “His name was like … Gumbo.”

“Gumbo?” Flanagan said.

“I think Disney should get on this,” Skadooter said.

“I think I know Dumbo, but …” Flanagan said.

“What? Is that like a thing?” Skadooter said.

Flanagan looked through the glass doors and spotted Miss Vasquez and Wayne go into one of the cubicles. He also noticed a man climbing over the desk two offices down from them.

“There’s a ****ing guy in the middle!” Flanagan shouted.

“I just had a dream about an elephant,” Skadooter said again.

Flanagan leapt up and ran into the Emergency Room.

* * *

Wayne looked around when he heard the shout from outside. He saw Flanagan run in through the glass doors as Miss Vasquez climbed back over the desk and stood up, throwing her hair back from her face. Her clothing was pretty bloody from the desk. Her hair had gotten blood in it as well.

A man walked out of the office two down and stumbled towards them drunkenly. Wayne gaped at the man coming at them. He stepped back and Miss Vasquez headed for the man. Flanagan ran across the room and Miss Vasquez tried to stab the man in the head with the scissors. She missed his temple, jamming the scissors into his neck, which didn’t appear to affect the man at all. He tried to bite her but she pushed him away.

* * *

Skadooter felt completely stone-cold sober and he didn’t like it. His face hurt and he thought he could feel his heartbeat inside his nose, pulsing and pulsing and pulsing. He stood up, picking up the mattock, and looked around. That’s when he saw the scuffle taking place in the hospital waiting room.

* * *

Wayne thought he knew how to break a person’s neck so he rushed into the melee and grabbed the man’s head, twisting it. There was a terrible snap and the man’s head flopped down on his shoulder, but he continued to try to bite Vasquez.

“Oh shit!” Wayne cried.

He knew he had to kill the man. He shouldn’t have been alive and Wayne wanted him to stop moving.

Flanagan rushed at the man and stabbed him in the face that lay aside his shoulder. He stabbed him several times but the man didn’t seem affected by it. Then Miss Vasquez stabbed at the man’s temple but missed again, and stabbed him in eye, bursting the orb. The man didn’t seem to care at all. His mouth snapped closed over and over.

Skadooter ran into the hospital, the mattock over his head. He brought the improvised weapon down on the man’s shoulder. There was a snap as the shoulder broke and his arm went limp. Otherwise the man didn’t seem affected in any way.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter yelled.

The man tried to bite Miss Vasquez again though his head rolled around on his neck like a top. She managed to keep him off her. Wayne grabbed Miss Vasquez’s left hand, raised it up, and tried to bring it down on the man’s head. The letter opener came down the man’s face, tearing at the flesh of his cheek and cutting it badly. Flanagan stabbed the man in the temple with the long stiletto, pulled it out, stepped back, posed, and the man dropped to the ground and stopped moving.

Wayne dropped Miss Vasquez’s hand and went to his knees. He started beating on the man’s head with his right fist screaming unintelligibly as it did so. The other three stepped back.

“Get dicked on!” Skadooter yelled.

Miss Vasquez patted the Wayne on the shoulder.

“He’s dead,” she said. “He’s dead! He’s gone! It’s okay! C’mon let him go!”

Wayne continued to beat on the man for about half a minute, screaming, before he finally stopped once the man’s head was pulped. It was quite disturbing.

“Huh?” Wayne said. “What?”

“It seems obvious to me that, like, everybody her is affected in some way,” Miss Vasquez said. “So, we need to raid this place and get the hell out of here. We need some medical supplies.”

“Holy shit!” Skadooter said. “We killed someone! High five!”

“No,” Miss Vasquez said.

Wayne raised his hand and Skadooter tried to high five him but Miss Vasquez put a hand up and stopped the man.

They looked around but could not see anyone around at the moment. Miss Vasquez suggested breaking down the emergency doors and they searched until someone found a button behind the reception desk that, when pressed, opened the doors automatically. Miss Vasquez kept her gun in her hand.

They went into the Emergency Room, heading down the hallway. Open examining rooms were on the right while a large enclosed desk was on the left. The whole place was well-lit and smelled very clean. Miss Vasquez grabbed a trash bag out of the trashcan from one of the examining rooms, dumping the trash.

They found bandages in the cupboards in the examining rooms. Behind the desk were medications like aspirin and antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide, iodine, and rubbing alcohol. They also found a tourniquet to stop the Wayne’s bleeding for the most part, and gauze to reapply to his horrible wound. They found drugs in a small refrigerator and took them all, as well as numerous unused hypodermic needles. They found some EpiPens. They took everything they found.

“We need to give you one of these right now,” Miss Vasquez said, holding up an EpiPen.

She injected it into Wayne’s arm.

“Ah!” he cried. “Better safe than sorry!”

After cleaning Wayne’s terrible wound, they doused it with alcohol, iodine, and hydrogen peroxide before applying a new dressing and tourniquet. Wayne bore the pain well. He also took plenty of aspirin. They discussed cauterizing his wound but decided against it, as they didn’t have anything to effectively do it with and, getting any kind of fire would probably set off the fire alarm and the sprinklers.

Skadooter looked for the medical marijuana but found no trace of any. He was very disappointed. He had two black eyes from the broken nose he’d experienced earlier and his nose still hurt terribly badly. Flanagan and Miss Vasquez each found a nose splint for the man. They used some tape to mount it on his face to protect his nose. Skadooter also found one of the clear medical masks that covered the eyes. He put it on. He went up to each of them and said “I’m Batman.”

“You’re clearly too black to be Batman, sir,” Flanagan said.

“Wait, is he Blackman?” Miss Vasquez quipped.

“Blackman?” Flanagan said.

“I’m the … Dark Knight,” Skadooter said.

Flanagan laughed.

Miss Vasquez grabbed an oxygen tank. She realized Wayne’s wound could be dangerous for a couple of different reasons. According to Hollywood, zombies passed their plague on through their bites. In real life, gangrene could be a real problem with the terrible wound the man had.

Skadooter had found a fire axe in a case on the wall. He took it, leaving the mattock leaning against the wall next to the case. He returned to the others and held it above his head.

“Doot doot!” he said. “Doot doot!”

“Where’d my mattock go?” Wayne said.

“What the ****?” Flanagan said.

“I left it back there,” Skadooter said, gesturing back down the hall.

“For ****’s sake!” Wayne said gesturing back down the hall.

“Can you go run and grab it so he has something?” Miss Vasquez said.

Skadooter went back and retrieved the mattock. He brought it to Wayne.

“Jesus!” Wayne said.

“I-I forgot it was yours,” Skadooter confessed.

“Jesus wasn’t black,” Miss Vasquez said.

“Jesus,” Wayne said again.

“What’d you say?” Skadooter said to her.

“Now, negro,” she replied.

“Woooo!” Skadooter cried out. “Woooo! Woooo! Skadoots. Giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirl!”

She walked away as he was saying the last word.

“You racist!” he said to her.

“Are you trying to tell me because I am not from this country that I don’t belong here because I do not appreciate that kind of attitude,” she said, turning. “So, you can just walk away or come with me and live.”

“Listen−” he said

She turned and walked away.

“−I was a slave in a past life,” he finished.

“Do I look like white trash!?!” she turned and said.

“They like you because of burritos!” Skadooter said.

“You ain’t never gonna see these beans!” she said.

“Aw,” he said. He tried to backtrack. “Wait … giiiiiiiiirl.”

She continued to walk away. Wayne followed her.

“But I like dem beans,” Skadooter finished.

Miss Vasquez was telling Wayne his truck was gone but heard what Skadooter said as well.

“They ain’t for you,” she called back to Skadooter. “They give you gas.”

“Gas for my engine, baby,” he called after her.

He threw his hand against his crotch.

Wayne and Miss Vasquez headed for the front of the building.

“The truck is gone,” she told him.

“Why is the truck gone?” he asked.

She explained the flat tire and their changing vehicles.

“But we’re not far from your car,” she said encouragingly. “We’ll find another stick shift. Sophia Rosita Mariana Fernando Vasquez the Second Junior loves to drive a stick.”

The other two caught up and when they reached the entrance to the Emergency Room, Miss Vasquez said CVS was just down the street; they should go there. They looked out the glass in the front of the building and saw no one.

“Let’s check the parking lot,” Miss Vasquez suggested. “Let’s get a new car.”

About a dozen cars were in the parking lot.

“I ain’t gettin’ in that small-ass car again,” Skadooter said. “Let’s get us a big one.”

“How do we start this car that we find?” Wayne said. “How do we get it going?”

“We look for one with keys in it,” Skadooter said.

They realized the two dead bodies in the lobby probably had keys in their pockets. Miss Vasquez went to the woman and started looking through her pockets.

“Miss Booty has the right idea,” Skadooter said.

He searched the dead man and they found car keys on each of the bodies. One was for a Toyota and the other for a Honda. They used the keys’ unlock buttons to find two vehicles on the far side of the parking lot from the hospital. Skadooter had a bright red 2012 Honda Fit. Miss Vasquez had a 2005 Toyota 4Runner all-wheel drive.

“Let’s see what he’s got in his car, if it’s worth anything, and let’s take the SUV,” Miss Vasquez said about the Fit. “Let’s loot his car. He’s dead anyway.”

“What - my … the one I got?” Skadooter said.

“Yeah,” she said.

“I’m down,” Skadooter said.

They opened up the red Honda Fit and found it to be an automatic. Inside, they found a medical kit, a six-pack of water bottles, several Ziploc bags of trail mix, a four-man tent that had seen better days, and a machete. Apparently the owner had been either a camper or was worried about getting stuck in the wilderness someday.

Skadooter took out a tiny pipe and his dime bag, filled it and took a hit while the others searched the car.

“My God, we ****ing killed a guy today,” he said.

“Did somebody fart out here?” Miss Vasquez asked as they moved the things they’d found from the Fit to the 4Runner.

“I smell a skunk,” Wayne said. “Does anybody else smell a skunk?”

“Do you guys want a hit?” Skadooter asked them.

“No,” Wayne said.

“Do you guys want hit?” Skadooter asked again. “It’s really good shit. I got this from Timmy Twohands.”

“Two hands!?!” Wayne said, looking at his bound left wrist. “That’s no ****ing fair!”

The 4Runner was also an automatic. Skadooter found a plastic bag on the floor under the driver’s seat that appeared to be full of powdered sugar. He grabbed it. Flanagan found a .22 automatic in the glove compartment. Skadooter moved to the hood of the vehicle and poured and cut a line of the cocaine with his Appalachian State University card. He got out a dollar bill and curled it into a tube.

“What the **** are you doing, bro?” Flanagan said to him.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter said.

“You gotta share, bro!” Flanagan said.

When Miss Vasquez saw him from the back of the vehicle, she drew her pistol and pointed it at him

“You either don’t do that or you don’t come with us!” she said

The black youth looked at the woman.

“What the hell?” he muttered.

“You cannot be ****ed up while we try to get this kid alright, okay?” she yelled at him. “There’s people eating people and I don’t need you ****ed up! If you’re ****ed up you’re staying here and you’re getting eaten alive and I don’t give a shit!”

“What the hell, chica!?!” Skadooter said.

“Kid?” Wayne said. “I’m the oldest ****ing person here.”

Miss Vasquez walked over to Skadooter and blew the cocaine off the hood of the SUV.

“Now you stay or you come but you don’t do that shit on my time!” she said. “Do you hear me!?!”

Skadooter looked at the woman and then, without taking his eyes off her, he zip-locked the bag and tucked it in his cargo pants.

“We need to get out of here!” she said.

“I need to be high to deal with this shit,” he said.

He took out the empty pipe and sucked on it again.

“**** me,” he muttered. “**** me in the butt.”

He stared at her.

“You can’t see me all the time,” he said.

“All right, but I’m just saying if that’s what you’re going to say right now, if you get stuck behind because of your high ass, I am not coming back for that because I got other things that are more important than somebody don’t care about shit,” she said.

“Baby, I’m twice the man when I’m high,” he said.

“I don’t care if that stuff is stiff,” she said.

“What?” Flanagan said.

“I think we should hit the CVS and get the prescription drugs,” Miss Vasquez said.

“Adderall,” Skadooter said.

“The ****!?!” Flanagan said. “What good is that gonna do us?”

“I need to be in the right ****ing mindset,” Skadooter said.

“It saves food,” Flanagan said.

Miss Vasquez climbed into the driver’s seat of the 4Runner and turned it on. There was a little more than a half tank full of gas.

“Shotgun!” Skadooter said. “I call shotgun!”

He ran around the car and climbed into the front. Flanagan and Wayne climbed into the back. Wayne was riding safety so he climbed in behind the driver. They locked the car doors. Miss Vasquez put down the visor and found, hooked there with a garage door remote, a Kangaroo debit card.

She put the car in gear and drove to CVS, which looked empty. Two cars were in the parking lot. She pulled up to the front

“Alright kids, let’s go in,” Miss Vasquez said. “Let’s just raid the pharmacy.”

They headed in.

“Who’s she ****ing calling a kid, man?” Wayne muttered under his breath. “What the **** does she mean ‘kids?’”

The whole building was apparently empty though the lights were on. There was a dead body next to the check-out. It looked like someone had been beaten to death with a baseball bat. The skull was completely smashed in. Wayne was happy to see the head was destroyed.

“Grab food,” Miss Vasquez said. “Jorman, come with me; we take the meds. You two take the food and drinks. Not alcohol. That will dehydrate us.”

Both Vasquez and Flanagan remembered the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission building was right next door. In North Carolina, the ABC stores were the only place a person could purchase hard liquor.

They started gathering as much as they could to load into the 4Runner. Wayne tried to find as many non-perishable foods as he could. He also grabbed plenty of multivitamins, including the gummy kind. He also grabbed a few cartons of cigarettes. Flanagan and Vasquez grabbed as much prescription drugs as they could carry. They found backpacks and started filling them with all the drugs they could. Skadooter yelled for them to get Adderall.

“I got it!” Miss Vasquez yelled back.

Skadooter focused on Gatorade and nutrition bars. He grabbed a backpack and filled it up.

They made several trips out to the car with filled backpacks. They watched out for the zombies each time they went.

Miss Vasquez grabbed a backpack and filled it with condoms. She was from Venezuela, where they sold for about $20 a condom. She knew their value and figured she could sell them. Skadooter saw her do it and she was just getting finished when she saw Skadooter at the end of the aisle. He smiled and nodded.

“You wish,” she called after him.

He just continued nodding and walked away.

They had looted all of the non-perishable food from the front, as well as much water as was on the shelves, and continued to take stuff, always watching out for more of the horrible zombies. There were none in the area, surprisingly. They managed to fill the 4Runner to the ceiling with everything they could, including between the seats and even on the floor in the back and the passenger side.

Wayne found the kites in the store and stripped them of their string. They took the tent they’d found in the Fit, tied it to the roof rack on the 4Runner, and secured it with its straps and the string. Then they filled it with even more stuff from the store. They found kid’s sleeping bags and stuffed a dozen or so of them in as well. They found fleece blankets as well and tucked many of them in. They even got some more small, two-man tents.

They had been loading the car for nearly two hours and were very surprised they weren’t seeing anything. Wherever the walking dead were, they were not near CVS. The only zombie they saw was over at the ABC store, bumping constantly against the door. He didn’t seem to have noticed them. They guessed they had enough necessities to last several months. The 4Runner sat a little lower on its tires.

They got into the SUV and headed out, driving down Blowing Rock Road back into town. Miss Vasquez pulled into Kangaroo Express to fill up the tank. There were three people in the parking lot. Two cars sat by the pumps. It looked like another man was inside the building wandering around.

“I think three quarters of a tank is enough,” Wayne said.

The people in the parking lot, hearing the engine, turned and looked at the 4Runner. Then they started walking towards it, walking grouped pretty close together. Miss Vasquez gunned the engine and ran down two of them, missing the third. The bodies flew up over the hood, splattering blood and guts everywhere. One of them slammed his head into the hood before flopping up over the top. Wayne, sitting in the front passenger seat, flinched and was a little disturbed by the whole thing.

“Jesus!” he said. “I’m used to dead bodies but … shit!”

The man inside walked to the door and pushed against it but the door apparently opened in. He could not get out. Miss Vasquez stopped the car by one of the pumps and took out the scissors and her gun.

“Keep going,” Wayne said.

She got out and started work the gas pump.

“We need to …” Wayne said.

She noticed there was only one guy near and she tried to get the gas pumping before dealing with him. Unfortunately, it took some time to get the debit card working. Flanagan got out of the car and ran over to the man. He slammed his stiletto into the man’s head but it was not a good, piercing hit. The man stumbled and then came at him with his mouth open. Wayne leapt out as well, mattock in hand, and ran over to the man. He struck the man in the throat, ripping out a large chunk of flesh. The man didn’t seem to care, but lunged at Flanagan again. Flanagan stepped back as Wayne swung the mattock again, hitting the man in the chest and putting the mattock into him. He couldn’t get it out of the man. The obviously dead man turned to him.

In the back of the 4Runner, Skadooter tried to lower the window and then laughed to himself.

Flanagan stabbed the man in the temple with the stiletto, then drew it out. The body went limp and, as it did so the mattock came free.

Miss Vasquez finally managed to get the gas pump to start up. She quickly filled the tank while keeping an eye out for more of the horrible things. She climbed back into the 4Runner and looked to where the man inside the building was still trying to push open the pull door.

“How bad does anybody want a candy bar?” she asked with a smile.

The man shattered the glass in the upper side of the door and started to climb out, lacerating himself horribly.

“Time to go,” Miss Vasquez said.

She drove back to Blowing Rock Road.

“Where should we go?” she asked.

“Away from Boone,” Wayne said.

Skadooter lit another bowl of marijuana and took a hit. He pointed at Wayne and nodded.

“You want to go south, east, or west?” Miss Vasquez said. “Those are our choices.”

More meteors continued to fall out of the sky in every direction. Skadooter took another hit. The others were starting to get a little bit of a contact high.

Dios mio, Miss Vasquez thought, angry at the man.

“I don’t know where to go, you guys,” she said. “I don’t know what to do from here. I’m not from your country. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Linville is south,” Wayne said. “Ashe County is north.”

“California,” Skadooter sang.

“Let’s go to Charlotte,” Flanagan said.

“Why don’t you come to your senses?” Skadooter continued to sing but changing the song.

“Rural is what we want to do,” Wayne said.

The man from the store finally reached the car and started banging on the back driver’s side window where Skadooter sat. Miss Vasquez pulled forward and he followed.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter yelled through the window.

Miss Vasquez turned left and headed back into town. She managed to drive around the people wandering in the road and turned right on 105 until she got to 421 once again. She turned right on 421 and headed towards Wilkesboro, N.C. They saw fewer people as they left town.

Meteors continued to fall from the sky. Someone turned on the radio. It was tuned to a station in Charlotte.

“It looks like this amazing meteor shower,” the very mello-sounded soft-spoken late-night DJ said, “will not only hit North America, but we’re guessing that even over in China, Russia, possibly Europe, they’ll be able to see this beautiful, beautiful meteor shower. What’s that? What?”

The man paused.

“Well, it looks like maybe these meteors are creating zombies,” the man went on, nonplussed, “so I’d advise everyone to start murdering everyone you know. But hey, in the meantime, we’re going to give you some nice, zombie-killing music.”

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. started playing. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1948-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Two
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session One http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1945-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-One Fri, 24 Jul 2015 22:23:47 GMT Thursday, July 23, 2015 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with James Brown, Kyle Matheson, Hannah Lewis,... Thursday, July 23, 2015

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with James Brown, Kyle Matheson, Hannah Lewis, Logan Scott, Bo Lewis, Nissa Campbell, and Joey Scott Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

On July 21, 2015, several people met in the rented cabin of Jorman Flanagan in Vilas, North Carolina.

Flanagan was fairly mysterious - people didn’t know much about him. He was an average-looking white man who wore glasses and was tall and lean, standing over six-foot tall. He had black hair but otherwise blended in. He claimed to be an accountant but, in reality, he was an assassin who had not yet really made a name for himself at the age of 25. He lived in New York City.

He had invited the people he’d met at a party hosted by the running back at Appalachian State University some months before. Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter had literally invited everyone in town to that party. The people Flanagan had invited to his party were the ones who had gotten high as **** with and hit it off with at Skadooter’s party. When the quarterback at ASU had died unexpectedly before the playoffs, it was Skadooter who had taken ASU to the championship. The quarterback had been his best friend.

“Doot doot!” was what Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter said when he got to what he thought was his party. It was both a greeting and his catchphrase.

Skadooter was black, 22 years old, and the senior star running back of the Appalachian State University football team. He was well-known in Boone and in the division. ESPN, when they rarely came to Boone or the games, focused on him a lot, actually. He was tall for a running back, standing about 6’4” tall. He was solid and strong. He had dreadlocks and a small chinstrap beard. His touchdown dance was as original as it got with a jig he ended by pantomiming playing a horn and yelling “Doot doot!” He was from Greensboro and was good enough at football in high school for a top school, but his academics were so terrible that they didn’t want him.

He didn’t do other people’s parties, but Flanagan had sent his invite “From Skadooter to Skadooter” so the youth had come to find out who was pretending to be him!

Chimamanda Austen-Burgess was a local writer and claimed to be related to Jane Austin. Her friends called her Chimmy. A black woman of only 21 years, she had already carved a niche for herself with her writing, mostly post-modern, feminist, black books that didn’t really fit into the standard definitions of genre. She called it “human writing.” She had braided hair, strong cheekbones, and wore very bright clothing. She had a home in both the Boone area and Nigeria, where she was originally from. She had not originally been invited to Skadooter’s party but had crashed it and been one of the ones who had hung out with the running back.

“Call me Wildman!” was how Billy Billson had always introduced himself.

None of those at the party knew his actual name. They did know he was a redneck moonshiner from nearby Sugar Grove. He wore overalls and a black t-shirt with no shoes. His hair was a reddish brown starting to gray as he was about 40 years old. He was of average height and very thin. He was a little cross eyed and otherwise looked a lot like Tom Cruise. He was still upset about all the rigmarole about the Confederate battle flag.

“It doesn’t mean what it means!” he would always say.

Yaboi Fugly looked Filipino and was very tall, standing well over six feet, and immensely fat, probably over 300 pounds. He was a tribesman on an island in the Pacific who managed to get to North Carolina but had very little money or understanding of the American culture aside of what he’d seen on television. He was on a spirit journey at the age of 22. He had dark hair and was clean shaven.

Sofia Rosita Mariana Fernando Vasquez II Jr. was a local Latino who was originally from Venezuela. She was short but very curvy, standing right around five feet tall. She was a vintner who owned her own winery in Boone that also made beer. She had tried to make beer but it always came out wine. She didn’t know why. She had very long-black hair to the small of her back.

Floyd Wayne was from Boone as well. A white man who stood about six and a half feet tall, he was also very solid. He had a beard and looked very rugged. He was about 40 years old with rough hands, a weathered look, and a hundred-yard stare. He worked as a gravedigger for the City of Boone. He was very poor.

They were drinking and socializing that evening. Music was playing and everyone was indulging.

About 11 p.m., a meteor came down from the sky in the direction of Boone. There was a flash of light as it hit the ground somewhere in that area. Miss Vasquez started to jabber away in Spanish.

“Mi gatos muy fuerte,” Skadooter said. It translated into “My cat is very strong.”

“The **** she say?” Flanagan said.

“I have a cat in my dorm,” Skadooter said. “You ain’t supposed to have a cat in your dorm.”

“Did y’all just see that shit?” Wildman said.

“Yeah,” Miss Austin-Burgess said.

Others also assented.

“It was falling from the sky!” Miss Vasquez said.

“The sky is fallin’!” Wildman said.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter said.

“Guys, what do you think it was?” Miss Austin-Burgess said. “I should write a short story about it.”

“I don’t know about you, but if fire falls from the sky, we go!” Miss Vasquez said. “We go see what it is, see what the gods want, and then we go.”

She headed out of the cabin.

“I’m thinking if it hit a populous area, there’s gonna be a lot of bodies to bury,” Wayne said.

“That’s true,” Miss Austin-Burgess said. “We should call the police.”

“I’m gonna go there,” Wayne said.

“Wait, shouldn’t we call the police?” Miss Austin-Burgess said.

“Wait guys!” Flanagan said. “Who’s sober enough to drive?”

Fugly knew he was trashed, though Skadooter thought he could drive. Wayne and Miss Vasquez knew they could drive, as did Wildman. Miss Vasquez was in the front seat of her Subaru hatchback, honking the horn and calling for the rest. Skadooter, pretty drunk, ran past the cars and headed up U.S. Highway 421/321 towards Boone at a run.

The dome light of the hatchback came on and hatch opened up as Fugly snuck into the back. Then Miss Austin-Burgess climbed into the passenger seat.

“All right, let’s hit it!” she said.

“Where’s everybody else?” Miss Vasquez said.

“Uh …” Miss Austin-Burgess said.

“Who wants to hop in the back of the pickup truck?” Wayne said, climbing into his vehicle, an old Ford Ranger.

He turned the ignition and, with a backfire, the 15-year-old truck coughed to life. Flanagan climbed into his Audi.

“Hey the undertaker’s over there!” Miss Vasquez said. “Let’s just climb into the back of his trunk!”

“Well, I was really hoping to ride alone with you, Sophia,” Miss Austin-Burgess said suggestively.

The two got out of the hatchback and ran over to the pickup truck, climbing into the bed. Fugly saw them head out so he crept out and followed, sneaking by the truck and quickly slipping into the cab through the window, unseen by Wayne, who was trying to keep the engine running. Wayne looked up when he felt the car move and saw the women in the back with Wildman.

They drove up the highway towards Boone and spotted Skadooter at the car wash in Vilas, leaning against one of the large vacuums, out of breath. Miss Vasquez yelled into the window in the back of the cab, pointing at him.

“I see him!” Wayne said. “Ain’t that Skadooter?”

“Let’s go get him!” Miss Vasquez said.

Wayne pulled the truck into the car wash parking area.

“Ya need a ride, friend?” he called.

Skadooter felt like he was going to get sick.

“Ya wanta ride there, buddy?” Wayne called again as Flanagan’s Audi pulled up behind him.

“Yeah, gimme a ride, homie!” Skadooter said.

“Hop on in!” Wayne said.

“Get me to that meteor!” Skadooter said.

He rushed at the truck and tried to jump into the bed but miscalculated and crashed into the side of the truck instead, falling to the ground.

“He’s in!” Wayne said.

He put the truck into gear and gunned it, jerking forward.

“Alto! Alto!” Miss Vasquez cried. “He’s not in! Where you going?”

“What the **** you sayin’?” Wayne called back.

“Stop!” Miss Vasquez said.

The passenger side door opened on the cab as Fugly burst out laughing and fell out of the truck. Wayne stomped on the brakes, bringing the truck to an abrupt halt. Flanagan, in the Audi, had also started to pull forward. He hit the brakes as fast as he could but his car still struck the back of the pickup truck. Miss Vasquez started to curse in a mix of Spanish and English.

“Hey!” Wayne yelled. “It doesn’t matter!”

“Shit!” Flanagan shouted.

Skadooter climbed onto the back of the pickup truck, using the Audi as a footstool. His foot slipped three times before he was able to get over the tailgate. He tried to somersault into the bed but instead merely slid in.

“Word up!” he said.

Wayne looked to his right and saw Yaboi Fugly on the ground, still laughing.

“Get the **** in the vehicle!” Wayne said to him.

Fugly stumbled to his feet and flopped into the cab again, still laughing. Once the door was closed and the dome light went off, Wayne put the truck into gear and got back into traffic, which was very light. Fugly slid back down to the floor and hid in the dark.

They went through the light at 105 Bypass and down the hill, soon arriving on King Street in Boone. Wayne and Flanagan both slowed their vehicles when the speed limit dropped. In the back, Skadooter was screaming “Doot doot!” Wayne figured if the cops pulled them over, they’d recognize Skadooter and not ticket them.

There was very little traffic on King Street though he noticed a couple of cars in the opposite lane sitting in the road. When they reached Water Street, a car was stopped at the stop light. When the light turned green, the car didn’t move.

“What’s going on?” Miss Vasquez said.

“Red light,” Wayne said.

“It’s a green light now!” Miss Vasquez said.

Skadooter climbed out of the bed of the truck and walked up to the other car. Miss Vasquez tried to stop him but he was far too strong for her.

“Careful Skadooter!” Miss Austin-Burgess called.

Skadooter walked to the driver’s window and saw there was a middle-aged man sitting in the driver’s seat. The car was apparently stalled. The man was staring straight ahead.

“Doot doot mother****er!” Skadooter said. “The light’s green!”

“Get back in the truck!” Wayne said. “We’ll go around!”

“This old mother****er ain’t getting out of my way!” Skadooter said.

“We’ll go around!” Wayne said. “**** him!”

“I’m the star running back of ASU! He needs to get out my way! Doot doot!”

“We’ll go around!”

“Doot−!”

“Get in the back of my ****ing truck!”

“− doot!”

Skadooter leaned into the window.

“Doot!” he screamed. “Doot! Doot!”

He fogged up the window a little. Wayne, meanwhile, pulled his truck into the opposite lane.

“Get in the back!” he said.

Skadooter backed up to the truck, pointing at his eyes and then at the eyes of the man in the car.

“I’ll remember this!” he said threateningly.

He climbed back into the bed and Wayne pulled into the intersection, avoiding a car in the opposite lane also merely sitting in the street and not proceeding through the intersection despite having a green light. Flanagan’s Audi followed. They continued down King Street past the fire department. When they got to the Depot Street intersection, Mast Store on their left, they noticed flashing red and blue lights up the street somewhere. When Wildman saw, he ducked low in the bed of the truck.

As they reached the area of Appalachian Street, they could see a gray and black highway patrol cruiser, lights flashing, pulled onto the sidewalk in front of the Hob Nob Farm Café on the left side of the road. The driver’s side door was open into the street. Wayne assumed the officer pulled someone over but there was no other car in the area. He continued to slowly go past the vehicle.

Some of them noticed a large discolored spot on the sidewalk in front of Hob Nob.

“What the hell’s that!?!” Wildman said.

“Is that blood?” Miss Vasquez said leaning into the cab.

“I don’t know,” Wayne said.

“Oh shit, it’s the police!” Skadooter yelled. “Doot doot!”

“****ing Skadooter,” Wayne muttered.

“It looks like there’s some kind of blood on the ground over there, yo,” Miss Vasquez said.

“Taste it,” Miss Austin-Burgess said. “I’ll give you $35.”

“I ain’t goin’ to jail!” Skadooter cried.

Wayne looked to his right. Fugly was on the floorboards, peeking up over the dash.

“I know you’re there,” Wayne said.

Miss Vasquez hopped out of the driver’s side of the truck, followed closely by Miss Burgess-Austin. Unfortunately, the vehicle was still moving and they both stumbled when they hit the ground, falling. Both of them were fairly badly hurt. Fugly threw open the passenger side door and tumbled out as well, crashing to the ground. He was also hurt.

“Skadoots,” Skadooter called to them, lifting his hat.

It was another catchphrase, in this case meaning “Good-bye.”

Flanagan, meanwhile, found a parking spot in front of Jimmy Johns on the corner and pulled the Audi in.

Wayne looked for a parking space on the street but there were none on that side. He pulled up onto the sidewalk on that side and turned off the truck, leaving the keys in the ignition. He got out.

Fugly had some rags in his pocket because he hurt himself all the time. He bound the wounds on his legs. He saw that both of the women were also trying to do clean up their wounds. The two tore some of their shirts and bound up the scrapes.

Flanagan, meanwhile, crossed the street to the dark spot on the pavement. It looked like the splatter of some kind of dark liquid on the sidewalk in front of the closed café. He touched it with his foot and it seemed a little sticky. He wondered if it was spilled soda. He poked the stain with his finger and sniffed it. It was still a little wet and had a metallic smell. He backed up into the middle of the road.

Miss Vasquez and Miss Austin-Burgess walked to the stain and they could smell iron, almost like blood. Miss Vasquez touched the stain and sniffed it. It smelled like blood. She tasted it. It was blood. She cried out and wiped it off on her pants.

“Why are you tasting it!?!” Flanagan said.

“Money!” Miss Vasquez said.

“Makes sense,” Flanagan said.

Wayne walked up.

“What the **** are they doing?” he muttered.

Wildman got out of the truck but Skadooter had put ear buds in, having hooked them to his smart phone. He played rap music and jammed while sitting in the bed of the truck. Wildman crossed the street to the rest and was followed by Fugly, who crept into the patrol car. The keys were in the ignition and there was a shotgun in a gun rack against the dashboard. A laptop computer sat open on the passenger seat. He started to push buttons on the computer but it required a password. He didn’t know what it meant so he just kept hitting buttons.

Wayne leaned into the police car and saw the keys were still in the ignition.

“I want the shotgun,” he said.

Fugly shook his head. Wayne reached for the keys but Fugly slapped his hand away. Every time that he got his hands towards the keys, Fugly slapped his hand away.

“The hell!?!” Wayne said. “Why!?! Why!?!”

“It’s mine!” Fugly said.

“Yours?” Wayne said. “Get the shotgun!”

“It’s in my car,” Fugly said. “I’m fine.”

“Fine,” Wayne grunted. “****ing fine!”

He walked back to his truck to get his shovel out of the bed. As he approached, he saw a young woman walking down the street towards his truck as well. She wore tight clothing and he guessed she was a college student. She was blonde and stumbled as if drunk.

“Are you okay?” he said.

She had been focused on Skadooter but looked his way and started to walk towards him, coming around the front of the truck.

“Hey!” Wayne said. “Hey!”

Wildman, Flanagan, and Miss Austin-Burgess all noticed the girl. Wayne picked up the shovel from the back of his truck.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asked. “Honey?”

She passed the driver’s side door and then suddenly opened her mouth wide and rushed at him. Wayne held the girl off with his shovel, her jaw snapping at him like an animal. She made no noise other than the clicking of her teeth. Fugly looked over his shoulder and saw the man struggling with the girl. He pulled the keys out of the ignition and fitted one of them in the gun rack, pulling the shotgun free.

Wayne tried to push the woman off him with the shovel but she was persistent. Wildman ran across the street.

“Take it, she-*****!” he yelled.

He leapt at the woman but missed her completely, crashing to the ground behind her.

“What the ****!?!” Wayne said.

Flanagan ran across the street and tried to push the woman over unsuccessfully.

Sophia drew a small pistol out of her pocket and fired at the woman, striking her in the right shoulder. The woman stumbled for a moment but didn’t fall over or even cry out. Skadooter looked up and saw the struggle and then heard the gunshot.

“Yo, getter dude,” he said. “Uh!”

The girl looked momentarily at Miss Vasquez but then came at Wayne again. He tried to hold her off with the shovel, but she leaned her head over and bit him in the left wrist, ripping off a large chunk of flesh. He could see the bone of his arm.

“Oh God!” he cried. “****!”

He was left-handed.

“Chop that shit off!” Skadooter yelled drunkenly.

There was a lot of blood.

“Oh my God!” Skadooter yelled, suddenly realizing what he was seeing. “Oh my God!”

Miss Vasquez fired again, shooting the woman in the chest. The woman stumbled again but didn’t fall.

“Dios Mio!” Miss Vasquez yelled. “Zombie!”

Fugly hustled across the street and pointed the gun straight up, pulling the trigger. There was a blast as the shotgun went off. He was glad to know it was loaded.

Behind the insane girl, Wildman reached into his pocket and took out his brass knuckles. Wayne shoved the woman again and she stumbled backwards over the crouched Wildman, tumbling to the ground. He stood up.

While Flanagan rushed the fallen girl and tried to hold her down, Miss Austen-Burgess ran to Wayne and tried to pull him away from the melee.

“Get those digits!” Skadooter yelled at Flanagan, his voice slurred.

Miss Vasquez ran to the woman and also tried to grab her ineffectively.

“Y’all getter man!” Skadooter, still very drunk, said. “Whatever dog!”

He continued to listen to the music on his phone.

The woman tried to bite Flanagan but he held her off, her jaws snapping next to his face. Fugly turned the shotgun around and grabbed it by the hot barrel. He pushed on the girl’s chest with the butt of the gun.

“Crazy *****!” Wildman cried.

He leapt at the woman and punched her with his brass knuckles. The blow struck the woman on the leg as she kicked and tried to get up. Fugly recoiled and backed away. Wayne, meanwhile, went down to one knee and put his arm against the asphalt. He was determined to chop off his hand before the infection could spread. He lifted up the shovel to bring it down on his upper arm. Miss Austin-Burgess screamed.

“What the **** are you doing!?!” she shrieked.

Flanagan, meanwhile, tried to punch the woman on the ground but didn’t effectively hurt her. Miss Vasquez leapt up and ran to Wayne. She ripped some of her shirt sleeve again and tried to bind his wound.

“The police are right there!” Skadooter cried as he watched the others beating on the girl.

“I’m the police!” Fugly said.

The woman tried to bite Flanagan again but he managed to hold her off.

Fugly had noticed Wayne about to chop his arm off and stepped over, worked the action on the shotgun, put it against Wayne’s arm, and fired. The blast blew the man’s hand off just below the wrist. Buckshot ricocheted off the asphalt, striking Wayne and Miss Austin-Burgess. The hand slid across the pavement, stopping on the ground near where Skadooter still sat in the bed of the truck.

“Holy shit! What the ****!?!” Skadooter said, finally stopping his be bopping. “Holy shit!”

Wayne fell to the ground, unconscious from the shock.

“*****!” Wildman yelled.

He slammed the woman in the leg again as she struggled against him and Flanagan. Flanagan drew a stiletto and stabbed the woman in the eye. There was a nasty fleshy noise and when he pulled it out, the eyeball came out with the knife. The woman continued to try to bite him, not making a sound.

“Oh God, this isn’t normal!” he screamed.

He was suddenly and terribly afraid of teeth.

“Why!?!” Miss Austin-Burgess cried at Fugly.

She tried to wrap the blood-gushing stump of Wayne’s left arm. Miss Vasquez bound the arm as well, trying to tie it off as best she could. The blood continued to ooze out of the wound but was not pouring out like it had been before.

“**** this, white people!” Skadooter said.

He slid across the bed to the passenger side.

Fugly, meanwhile, brought Wayne around by shaking him and slapping his face.

“Wake the hell up!” he said.

“Stop!” Wayne said.

He cried out when he saw his left hand was gone and his arm had been bound. Still out of it, he cut at the severed left hand with his shovel, tears coming from his eyes.

“Stop it!” he cried. “I don’t wanna …”

“What are you doing?” Miss Austin-Burgess said. “It’s okay! It’s okay! I’m sorry!”

Wildman, meanwhile, continued to beat on the woman, working his way up to her gut. She wouldn’t stop moving though. Flanagan pulled himself off the girl and drew a massive revolver from a hidden holster under his jacket. He blasted the woman’s head off, her skull shattering and exploding.

“Who this white kid is?” Miss Vasquez called.

The woman who had attacked them finally stopped moving. When Flanagan saw the woman’s lower jaw was still intact and filled with teeth, he let out a cry and ran to his car.

Skadooter looked when he heard the gunshot and saw the dead woman.

“What the ****, man!?!” he screamed. “The police are right there!”

“Oh God!” Flanagan screamed as he ran away.

Miss Vasquez looked for blood on her clothing; there was a lot. When Fugly had blown Wayne’s arm off, she had been very close. She stepped back and cursed in Spanish. Then she moved across the street to the embankment up the street from the buildings and sat down.

Wildman got up and offered Wayne a clear liquid in a mason jar. He also poured a little on the terrible wound on his arm. The 180 proof moonshine on the wound caused Wayne to scream in pain and pass out again. Wildman slapped him in the face until he woke up.

“My left hand is bleeding …” Wayne whined.

Skadooter took out his phone and dialed 911. All he got was static.

“What the ****!?!” he said.

When he looked at his phone he saw the bars were going from nothing up to five and back down again over and over again constantly.

“What the ****!?!” he said again. “Who hacked my phone!?! God damn it!”

Some of them heard a shuffling noise as if a crowd was approaching. Up the street, around the side of the First Baptist Church, a group of about a half dozen people shuffled out onto the sidewalk and started heading their way.

“**** this noise!” Flanagan shouted.

He ran to his car.

“Mind control!” Miss Vasquez cried. “It’s mind control! Run!”

“No autographs please!” Skadooter yelled.

“Heil Hitler!” was all Miss Austin-Burgess could think to say about mind control.

All 300 pounds of Fugly lollopped across the road. He flung himself into the police car, pulled the door closed, and locked it, then ducked down out of sight. He saw that the gas tank on the car was mostly full.

Skadooter climbed onto the cab of the truck.

Miss Vasquez rushed back over to Wayne and tried to get him back to his truck. He didn’t resist her.

“C’mon, amigo, let’s go!” she said.

She had some trouble moving him as he was very large but she kept encouraging him to get into the pickup truck.

Wildman crossed the street to examine the stain on the ground. Miss Austin-Burgess ran to the police car and tried to get the door open but found it locked.

“Open the doors!” she cried, banging on the door. “Why are the doors locked?”

Around the corner of the building holding Hob Nob Farm Café came a police officer. He stumbled around the building and she saw there was blood on his shirt. It looked like someone had torn his throat out.

“Let me in the car!” she said.

“Oh God!” Wildman said. “Oh God!”

Across the street, Miss Vasquez shot at the police officer. The bullet struck him in the knee and there was a snap. The man went down to his knees and crawled that way towards Wildman and Miss Austin-Burgess.

Flanagan’s Audi came to life and he gunned it, tearing down the street towards the crowd of strangers on the sidewalk. He aimed for them with his car but then realized they all had teeth and didn’t want to get anywhere near them so swerved the car away and continued down the street.

Miss Vasquez fired again at the police officer but missed, the bullet shattering one of the glass panes at Hob Nob.

“C’mon!” she said to Wayne.

He started to stumble the way she led him. She got him to the truck and put him in the driver’s seat, then pushed him across to the passenger side.

* * *

As Flanagan drove down King Street approaching Cherry Drive, he slowed the car, feeling his fear of teeth drain away. He turned the car around and headed back.

* * *

Miss Vasquez started Wayne’s pickup truck as Skadooter climbed down into the bed. With a rough start, she pulled away and drove down the street.

Wildman rushed the police officer with a scream with Miss Austin-Burgess close behind. She struck the officer with the side of her hand, slamming him around. He didn’t fall, however.

Fugly started up the police cruiser.

The officer tried to bite Miss Austin-Burgess but she managed to stay away from his jaws. Wildman pounded on him with his brass knuckles, punching him in the face. There was a lot of blood but the man continued to try to bite them.

Fugly drove slowly by, the passenger side window coming down. He also hit the button on the radio and turned it up as loud as it would go. He pumped the shotgun and put it into the window.

Miss Austin-Burgess tore into the police officer but didn’t seem to hurt him. Then the police cruiser rolled by and they saw the barrel of a gun. The shotgun blast reverberated down the street but Fugly had waited too long and the blast took out another window of Hob Nob.

* * *

Miss Vasquez continued down King Street, planning on turning on Blowing Rock Road to get to River Street. They saw Flanagan in his Audi coming back from that direction before they even got down the hill. He turned around again and followed them.

* * *

Fugly pumped the shotgun again and then turned the cruiser around. He saw more people coming down the street from the other direction.

Meanwhile, Wildman and Miss Austin-Burgess continued to battle the police office. Wildman punched the cop in the head again. The police officer tried to bite Wildman but he was too fast for him. Then they both laid into the man again. He finally fell as the police cruiser rolled up beside them.

“You guys need a ride?” Fugly said.

“Please!” Wildman said.

“You know how to drive?” Fugly said.

“Nope,” Miss Austin-Burgess said.

“No,” Wildman confessed.

“All right, hop in,” Fugly said, unlocking the doors.

The two quickly climbed into the back seat of the police cruiser and locked the doors. Fugly gunned the cruiser, flooring it, and aimed the vehicle at the people shambling down the street towards them. The two in the back seat were pressed back in their seats as he hit the people at probably upwards of 50 miles per hour. Wildman covered his eyes, not wanting to see, while Miss Austin-Burgess watched in terror. The music was so loud they could barely hear the sounds of the people crashing over the roof of the car. One man’s face was smashed against the windshield.

Fugly flipped out and had to get away. He continued to push the accelerator to the floor and quickly spotted the Audi and the pickup truck, passing both at about ninety miles per hour. He came to his senses by the time he got to Yosef Drive on the east side of town.

* * *

Flanagan followed the pickup truck, turning right on Blowing Rock Road. When Miss Vasquez saw more people shambling down the street, she decided not to go to River Street but get to the hospital instead.

The radio had been tuned to a Charlotte radio station, playing music quietly. Then a news broadcast came on.

“Some meteors came down tonight,” the announcer said. “Some hit near Boone and apparently we’re going to have a lot of meteors tonight so keep your eyes open.”

More meteors started to appear in the skies overhead. There were probably hundreds of them.

“Yes, apparently the entire continent of America will be hit,” the announcer went on. “According to meteorologists, this heretofore undetected meteor shower will probably also hit Asia and possibly Europe in the northern hemisphere and scattered location in the southern hemisphere as well tonight.

“So, keep your eyes open for those beautiful falling stars.” ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1945-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-One
Superworld: Fire and Ice Session Two: Arsonist Unveiled http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1944-Superworld-Fire-and-Ice-Session-Two-Arsonist-Unveiled Tue, 23 Jun 2015 00:40:09 GMT Monday, June 15, 2015 (After playing the original *Superworld* scenario _Fire and Ice_ Sunday from noon to 5:30 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Nissa... Monday, June 15, 2015

(After playing the original Superworld scenario Fire and Ice Sunday from noon to 5:30 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Nissa Campbell, Logan Scott, and Aaron Scott)

In the early hours after the fire at the apartment complex, Protean had found a tree in one of the Charlotte parks and made himself a body out of one of the living trees there. He was pleasantly surprised when he found it worked.

Then he went to the police department downtown and talked to the desk sergeant on duty. He told them he wanted to set up a press conference. The officer told him he’d take a message for the chief and so took Protean’s name and the message for Chief Dean and told him they’d inform him. Protean said the message really wasn’t for the chief, but the office told him the chief could help him set up the press conference.

“I thought Arclight was your press guy,” the officer asked.

“We’re all our own press guys,” Protean said.

“Okay,” the officer said. “Okay. No offense.”

“We’re a group of individuals,” Protean said.

He left his pager number for the chief and the desk sergeant said he’d have the chief text him.

* * *

On Thursday, October 23, 2014, newspaper articles and the television news reported on the fire at the second apartment complex, this one in the Tryon Hills neighborhood. There was footage of Arclight and some of his quotes from the night before. There was video of Protean spewing out of a fire hose in a water body and exploding against the wall of the building. There was some footage of Edward, but nothing clear as the firefighters blocked the way. It was noted the owner of both apartment buildings was Tommy McElroy, though no news agency was able to speak with him apparently.

Arclight went to get Doug out of the sewers that morning. He found him with Bob, watching television. Doug sat on Bob’s chair while Bob lay on his mattress, the two of them discussing the ramifications of the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

They returned to the apartment and Arclight played video games with Doug the rest of the morning. He was only good at fighting games that were basically button mashing. Anything more complicated was too much for the pug.

* * *

Protean got a text from Chief Dean saying he could set up the press conference. When Protean told him it was urgent, he said he’d see what he could do. An hour or so later, he got a page that the chief had set up a press conference in front of the police station around 5 p.m. He sent back a thank you.

* * *

“If y’all want to talk to Tommy today, meet me at 10:30 at Radio Shack,” Absolem’s Riddle paged everyone.

“I’ll be there,” Protean paged back.

* * *

They met at the Radio Shack in Independence Shopping Center just off East Independence Boulevard around 10:30 just as Absolem’s Riddle exited the shop with her new pager, her old one having gotten damaged by the heat of the fire the night before. She saw the others were all in costume. Even Doug was wearing his Super Doug costume.

“Oh,” she said.

“Why … why are we at radio shack?” Arclight asked.

Absolem’s Riddle told him she had to replace her beeper.

Arclight asked her to wait for a minute and went into Radio Shack. There were a couple of customers talking to one man and another man behind the counter. He walked over.

“Yes sir, can I help you?” the man behind the counter said.

“Yes, I−” Arclight said.

“Wait a minute,” the man said. “You look like you need a new computer!”

“No,” Arclight said, disappointed at not being recognized. “Do you have pagers that are like talk to text, it recognizes the voice and then goes to text?”

“Yeah!” the man said. “C’mere!”

“Okay,” Arclight said, picking up Doug. “This is my talking dog!”

“Hi!” Doug said.

The man pointed and stared, his jaw dropping.

“Oh!” he finally said to Arclight. “You’re his sidekick, aren’t ya?”

“Uh … yeah,” Arclight said.

“I knew I recognized you from somewhere,” the man said.

“I need a pager for this dog so he can just talk and it’ll go to text to my pager,” Arclight said.

The man set him up but suggested a collar or a belt to hook it to. Arclight suggested Doug’s cape but Doug didn’t want the cape weighed down.

“I need a utility belt!” Doug said.

“Utility …” Arclight said.

“Yeah!” Doug said.

The pager cost $200 as it was very high tech. The clerk showed Arclight how to program it so Doug would just have to push a button to activate the talk to text. It was simple enough Doug could use it without opposable thumbs. Arclight paid with a credit card. Then he left the store.

Absolem’s Riddle had slipped away and changed while they waited for Arclight light. When he exited the store, he found her signing autographs for some people out there.

“Hey, look over here!” Arclight said. “It’s me, Arclight.”

“Holy crap, it’s Arclight!” someone said.

He smiled as the people who had been asking for Absolem’s Riddle’s autograph went to get his. One guy was still waited for her to sign a piece of paper for him. Arclight signed whatever was put in front of him, not really paying attention.

Absolem’s Riddle suggested they talk to Tommy McElroy. Arclight wanted to go to a belt store to get a belt for Doug. Protean told them he had talked to the police chief and he was setting up a press conference.

“What!?!” Arclight said.

“That I’m going to give at five o’clock,” Protean said.

“Wait wait wait,” Arclight said.

“You don’t have to say everything for everyone all of the time,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“But I need to be there on camera,” Arclight said. “Can I be there?”

“Yes,” Protean said.

“Behind you?” Arclight said.

“You guys can join me,” Protean said. “I encourage you all to join me at this press conference.”

“What do you need a belt for?” Absolem’s Riddle asked Arclight.

“I got Doug a pager,” Arclight said. “Doug’s going to be talking to us.”

“Dogs don’t wear belts,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Oh my God,” Protean said.

“I could wear a belt!” Doug said.

“Going to a belt store, it would be a human belt,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “It wouldn’t fit you. Even the littlest one.”

“We could get a custom belt,” Arclight said.

Absolem’s Riddle suggested a dog harness. Doug suggested one of those woman’s collars for sadomasochists. Absolem’s Riddle noted then he’d have spikes poking his junk. Edward suggested a pet store. Absolem’s Riddle suggested a harness again.

“Wait,” she said. “A pager?”

“He got me a pager!” Doug said, obviously excited as he jumped up and down. “I can’t wait.”

“Talk to text,” Arclight said.

They discussed it some more but Doug didn’t want a harness, he wanted a utility belt.

“Like Batman,” Doug said.

“Like Batman,” Arclight said.

“They don’t make those for your size,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Why don’t we just go to a pet store?” Edward said.

“That would make more sense,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Yeah!” Doug said. “We got to a pet store, you buy one of those big collars, and then you put it around my waist.”

“As long as you don’t mind your junk being …” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I wear pants now, look!” Doug said.

“You wear pants?” she said.

“And don’t call me Doug,” Doug said. “Call me DOUG!”

“The Super Pug,” Arclight said.

“Yeah,” Doug said.

They discussed the press conference, which was not until 5:00.

Arclight took Doug to get the belt, finding a yellow collar big enough to go around his waist. He used his credit card again for the $20 purchase. Then he flew back to Radio Shack where the others were.

“Guys, look at his belt,” Arclight said.

“That’s adorable,” Protean said.

Arclight hooked the pager to the belt. He’d set it so that whatever Doug said would only go to him. At first Doug used it quite often but he quickly settled down. The pager was also set up so the pages Arclight sent to him would be recited in a computer voice.

“What are we doing?” Arclight asked.

“Well, we were going to McElroy’s …” Absolem’s Riddle said.

They talked about it, trying to decide if they should all go. Arclight suggested only one of them talk to him as all of them there might be intimidating. Absolem’s Riddle thought those of them who were human might be the ones to go. She said McElroy might be one of those kinds of people who were freaked out easily.

“So, you’re saying I’m not going to go?” Edward asked.

“Or Protean,” she said. “He’s not human. Anymore.”

Protean frowned.

“I mean, he’s still human,” Edward said. “He is in spirit.”

“I’m human on the inside!” Protean said.

“That’s where it counts,” Arclight said.

“I could be human on the inside,” Edward said.

“I agree,” Protean said. “I don’t want to scare him into not giving information.”

“I don’t wanna talk to him!” Edward said.

“Let’s all go and we’ll figure it out when we get there,” Arclight said.

“I think I’ll hold back,” Protean said.

“Okay, but don’t start the press conference early,” Arclight said.

“I won’t,” Protean said.

The address they had was in Villa Heights, one of the nicer suburban neighborhoods in Charlotte. The house was on a street with a lot of trees. Arclight and Absolem’s Riddle knocked on the door, which was answered by a little Hispanic lady in a gray dress who looked like a maid.

“Yes, can I help you?” the woman said.

Arclight looked at Absolem’s Riddle.

“We were wondering if we could speak with Mr. McElroy,” she said.

“Uh, no,” the maid said. “No. He’s not home. He’s at work.”

“Can you tell us which office building he works in?” Absolem’s Riddle asked.

“He’s working at his bar,” the maid said.

“At his bar?”

“Yes.”

“What’s his bar?”

“He usually goes to the Chow Down on Hamilton Street. Near where seven-seven and two seven seven meet.”

“Does he just have the one? We just want to make sure that−”

“No.”

“No.”

“He has several bars. And other properties.”

“All right. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Good-bye.”

She closed the door.

The two heroes crossed the street.

“Why would someone so rich work in a bar?” Absolem’s Riddle asked. “I mean, it’s his bar but−”

“He’s crooked!” Arclight said.

They reached the others.

“You came back pretty quick,” Protean said.

“He wasn’t home,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“He’s crooked!” Arclight said again.

“Oh,” Protean said.

“We have not talked to him,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “We’ve only talked to a little Mexican lady so I don’t know where he’s come up with that.”

“She smells like bleach!” Doug said.

“And lemon Pine-Sol?” Absolem’s Riddle asked.

“That’s all I could smell was bleach,” Doug said.

Arclight said they had to go to Hamilton Street where his bar was. He wondered what he’d be doing there at 11 a.m. Absolem’s Riddle suggested there was accounting and other things to be done besides tending the bar itself. Arclight still found it suspicious.

“But if he’s crooked, what would he be a-counting?” Edward asked.

“He’s a rich landlord, of course he’s crooked,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “He’s a slumlord.”

“I bet he’s a counting … the drugs!” Arclight said.

“We can’t make those assumptions,” Protean said.

“We can!” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“We assume that he’s doing bad,” Edward said.

“We can do anything,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Should is different.”

“Let’s just burn the place down,” Edward said.

“No!” Protean said.

“It’s not an assumption,” Absolem’s Riddle went on. “We saw two of his properties and they were crap.”

“I don’t think we should do that,” Arclight said to Edward.

“All right,” Edward said.

“We should check out this bar though,” Protean said. “Maybe he’s ignoring all his other properties just for this bar.”

“Well, and also because he can,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “I don’t know how long it’s been since you lived in an apartment but I am familiar with how landlords are.”

They found the Chow Down at the edge of the freeway at 1106 Hamilton Street on the east side of the road in the Greenville neighborhood. It was surrounded by a small parking lot with a few cars in it and stood under a billboard by the highway. It looked like the place had just opened that day. The neon sign out front had a picture of a beer mug with the words “Chow Down Bar and Grill.”

“This looks like a typical, non-franchised bar and grill,” Edward said.

“Do you two want to stay out here …?” Absolem’s Riddle asked Edward and Protean.

“I guess!” Edward said, disappointed.

“Well, the last time you went into a bar, Edward, it didn’t work out,” she said.

“I made a lovely lady friend,” he said.

“Lady friend?”

“She was not questioning anything and giving me food.”

“I have no need for food,” Protean said.

“You did eat a lot,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Uh, yeah, uh, speaking of which, am I going to get, like, reimbursed for that?” Arclight said.

“I thought you were the leader,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Whenever you want to pay me back,” Arclight said to Edward.

“I’ve still got some money to buy some food,” Edward said.

Arclight eyed him.

Protean and Edward decided to stay outside while Arclight and Absolem’s Riddle headed in.

“Am I allowed to go in there?” Doug asked.

“Yeah!” Arclight said.

“Uh … no,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “You’re not, actually.”

“You’re one of us!” Arclight said.

“I’m not?” Doug said to Absolem’s Riddle.

They discussed taking Doug the Pug in, Absolem’s Riddle saying he probably could if Arclight carried him. Edward suggested saying Doug was a therapy dog. Doug said he was a service dog. Arclight said he’d pretend to be blind, though Absolem’s Riddle didn’t think much of that plan.

They walked into the bar, Arclight carrying Doug. The place looked like a typical bar and grill. A few people were cleaning up as if they were getting ready to start the day.

“Yeah, can I help you?” one asked.

“Yeah, can you take us to your office where Mr. McElroy is if he’s working today?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Yeah, Tommy’s back there,” the man said.

“Can we talk with him please?” she asked.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

“Arclight!” Arclight said.

“Oh yeah, yeah,” the man said. “From the news.”

“Yeah,” Arclight said.

“So, Arclight and his dog,” the man said. “And who are you?”

“Just tell him Arclight and Friends are here,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Ah! She said it!” Arclight said.

“Arclight and Friends?” the man said.

He headed for the back. He came back in a minute.

“Yeah, Tommy’ll see you, but he’s already talked to the cops,” he said.

“Good, ‘cause we’re not the cops,” Arclight said.

He followed the man, Absolem’s Riddle whispering to Doug to get a good sniff of him.

“But don’t make it obvious,” Arclight whispered.

Tommy McElroy was a short, heavyset fellow with a sunburned face. He wore glasses and had a mustache and a goatee. He was blonde and his hair somewhat greasy.

“Yeah, can I help y’all?” he asked in a thick southern accent.

He sat behind the desk in the small back office. There were filing cabinets with piles of paper atop them and more paperwork on his desk.

“Yeah, whatta ya want?” he asked.

“Quite a nice bar you have here, sir,” Arclight said.

“Yeah,” McElroy said. “It’s one of my bars.”

“How’s business?” Arclight said.

“Been better. Whatta ya want? Look, I already talked to the cops. They’ve already been around here.”

“We just wanted to come talk to you about this really interesting remodeling you’re doing at your apartment buildings. It’s very new age, burning ‘em down−”

“Are you accusing me of something!?! You’re accusing me of burning down my apartment buildings!?!”

“We were just coming to ask if you had any enemies!” Absolem’s Riddle said. “I don’t know what Arclight is doing, I’m sorry. He just goes off the rail sometimes.”

Doug started sniffing loudly.

“Get that dog away from me!” McElroy said. “What is a dog doing in here!?!”

Doug nodded knowingly at Arclight.

“I’m sorry,” Absolem’s Riddle said again. “Arclight has some issues and Doug calms him down. So, we were just wondering if you had something that you wanted to tell us that you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling the cops, like anyone who might have something against you, like someone that would want to burn your buildings down.”

“Yeah, I got plenty of enemies,” McElroy said, still angry. “So what?”

“We’re just trying to figure out who burned down your things,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Why are you being so defensive?”

“I already talked to the cops!” McElroy said.

“I’m not the cops.”

“I know. Why do I want to even talk to you?”

“Because we’re better than the cops,” Arclight said.

“You don’t have to, but if you were actually concerned, which you’re starting to sound like you’re not−” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Oh, so my attitude indicates guilt?” McElroy said.

“No,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“So, you are a cop, is what you’re saying?” McElroy said.

“I’m sorry, she’s going off the rails,” Arclight suddenly said. “What we’re trying to do is find new homes for all the people who were affected in your apartments.”

“I got nothing to do with that,” McElroy said.

“Do you have more apartments?” Arclight said.

“I got plenty of properties!” McElroy said. “Yeah.”

“Can you give me a list of ‘em?”

“No!”

“I’m ─ what?”

“I’m not giving you a list of my properties.”

“Why not?”

“For all I know, you’re the ones burning them down!”

“I mean, I could find it in public records, it’d just be easier−”

“Yeah, we’re just going to come and ask you where they are so we can burn down the next one,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “That’s not suspicious at all.”

“I didn’t say you were smart,” McElroy said.

“So you’re the one that’s been burning them down,” Arclight said to Absolem’s Riddle.

“Arclight!” she said to him.

“Mystery solved,” McElroy said nastily. “Lock her up there Mr. … leather man.”

“After this I will for sure,” Arclight quipped. “So, I can’t have a list?”

“No,” McElroy said.

“What if I give you an autograph?” Arclight said.

“I mean, we can just as easily go down to city hall and get a list of your properties,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Then go for it!” McElroy said.

She glared at him.

“Anything else I can do for you?” McElroy said nastily.

“You are a proper dick sir, thank you for your time,” Absolem’s Riddle said angrily.

“Aw, **** you both!” McElroy said, flipping them both off

“You wish buddy,” Absolem’s Riddle said as she left the office.

“Doug, flip him off!” Arclight whispered to the dog.

Doug tried. He really did. But the dog didn’t have that kind of control over the individual digits of his paw.

“We’ll get it next time,” Arclight whispered to him.

“I’ll practice,” Doug promised as they left.

Absolem’s Riddle flung open the glass door that led outside. Arclight followed with the dog in his hand. When she approached the other two, she was muttering under her breath.

“So, how’d it go?” Protean asked.

“Really well,” Arclight said.

“Really well?” Protean said.

“Yeah,” Arclight said.

“So, what, you guys got the next lead?” Protean asked.

“No, he’s a huge, giant cad mother … ****ing …” Absolem’s Riddle muttered.

“He smelled like grease and aftershave,” Doug said.

“Oh,” Protean said.

“Or sweat and aftershave,” Doug said.

“That’s nice,” Protean said.

“And grease. There was grease there too.”

“Hmm.”

“I think he had bacon for breakfast.”

“Nice.”

“A lot of bacon.”

“I miss bacon.”

“A lot. Bacon is so good.”

Absolem’s Riddle suggested they go to the basements of the burned down apartment buildings and see if Doug smelled anything. Arclight said he was going to town hall to get the list of his properties.

“But we need Doug,” Absolem’s Riddle protested. “That means we need you. I don’t know if he’ll go without you.”

“You’ll do what I tell you, right?” Arclight asked Doug. “If it’s for the mission?”

“Yeah!” Doug said. “I’m Super Doug. Wait. Super pug. Wait. Doug the Super Pug!”

“But you stay with Edward,” Arclight told him. “And you listen to Edward like you would me.”

“Okay,” Doug said. “Wait, was I supposed to listen to you? HA! I’m kidding.”

Arclight put Doug down and he went over to sniff Edward. Arclight said he was going to city hall for the list of his properties and reminded Doug if he needed anything to push the button the pager and talk. Doug seemed fine with that.

“Before you go, next time when we talk to people, you shouldn’t just, out of the gate, just accuse them of burning down their own apartments/doing anything,” Absolem’s Riddle said to Arclight. “That kind of puts them on edge and makes them not want to talk to us.”

“I wanted to put him on edge,” Arclight said.

“It … worked,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “But then we also gave him three different reasons: ‘You’re the one who did it, no we just want to see if you have any enemies, no we want to give people a place to live.’ It was kind of awkward.”

“Meh,” Arclight said. “We got to see what kind of person he really was then.”

“We already knew from the apartments,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

Arclight flew away.

* * *

Arclight flew downtown to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. He found the Records Office and was able to find a list of properties Tommy McElroy owned. He quickly found out that both apartment buildings were owned by Tommy McElroy. It took him several hours to get a list.

* * *

The others went to the two burned down apartment buildings. Doug sniffed around the basements but couldn’t smell over the stink of the smoke, ashes, and fire.

“I’ve got super smell,” Edward said, also sniffing around.

* * *

They met back up around 3 p.m.

Arclight had a list of Tommy McElroy’s properties. He owned two other apartment buildings and six other bars and restaurants. Both of the other apartment buildings were in the same general area as the first two, one in the Druid Hills North neighborhood and the other in the Druid Hills South neighborhood. They were a little ways from each other but not terribly far. Both neighborhoods were lower class.

“Who wants to burn down one of his bars?” Edward asked.

“What?” Arclight said.

“What?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I mean …” Edward said.

“What’d you say?” Absolem’s Riddle asked.

“… who wants to stake out one of his bars to see if anyone wants to burn them down?” Edward said.

“What?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“We only have a couple hours before the press conference,” Protean said.

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” Arclight said.

“But if you didn’t want to be part of the press conference, you could do that,” Protean said.

“I mean, he only has a few properties left?” Edward said. “We could each station ourselves at one.”

“Well, no one’s attacked his bars,” Arclight said. “They’ve only attacked the apartments.”

“Yet,” Edward said.

“True,” Arclight said.

“All we know is that they’re attacking his properties.”

“Right. But … if two apartments have been attacked back to back, you’re going to assume the third is a bar?”

“I’m just saying if one of his bars happens to burn down …”

“I don’t want to wait for the next apartment to burn down,” Protean said.

“We could just expect one of his bars to burn down,” Edward said with a grin. “Sooner or later.”

“We could easily cover the apartments, but could someone call Vanguard, Magic Man up here?” Arclight said. “We could really use the help.”

“They never responded to my page earlier,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“They’re not committed!” Edward said.

“Where are they?” Arclight asked.

“They’re not committed to this,” Edward said.

“Magic Man’s probably either strung out or O.D.ed somewhere,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I miss Magic Man,” Edward said.

“Huh,” Arclight said. “Do … do you?”

“I do,” Edward said.

“They’re like besties,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “It’s weird.”

“Well, I can’t be at a press conference,” Edward said.

“Okay,” Protean said.

“Because … yeah,” Edward went on. “So, I’ll stake out one of the apartments and beep you guys if anything suspicious happens.”

Absolem’s Riddle pointed out the attacks had, so far, only come at night. Arclight told them the names of the buildings were Druid North and Druid South. He asked Edward which one he wanted and Edward picked Druid South. He handed the crocodile a piece of paper with the name of the apartment building and the address. There was also a Google map on the paper.

“Got it,” Edward said. “I’ll watch over the area.”

“Should we let him go alone?” Arclight asked.

“I think he can handle it,” Protean said.

* * *

Protean went to the area between Druid Hills North and South and found a small park in the midst of the neighborhoods. It was in bad shape with a broken swing set without swings, a fountain full of leaves, and lots of graffiti. There was not even a sign on the park - it looked like it had been stolen some time before. He could see the top of one of the apartment building from the small park.

He wandered the neighborhood for an hour and tried to learn from the locals what the park was called. A few were put off by the walking tree-man but he finally found an older black man.

“Used to be called Roustabout Park,” the man said.

“Roustabout?” Protean said.

“Yeah,” the man said. “Because back in the ‘50s, circus would come and this area was not as developed and that was the place the circus would be. The roustabouts worked for the circus.”

He told Protean a long story about what the area had been like in the 50s and about the roustabouts and the circus. Protean chatted with him for some time. He ended up talking to him until he had to leave for the press conference.

* * *

Edward snuck into the Druid South apartment building, which looked like it was in pretty bad shape. The lobby area was a mess with graffiti and debris. He crept in without anyone seeing him and went into the basement.

“I’m in the basement, guys,” he paged.

“Did you break in?” Arclight paged back.

“No, I walked in,” Edward paged back.

“Look around and see if you can see anything there that’s highly flammable,” Absolem’s Riddle paged.

“That’s what I’m doing,” Edward texted back.

There were a lot of flammable things in the basement: boxes, crates, artificial Christmas trees, and the like. However, he didn’t find any sign of any kind of accelerants that could be used to start a fire.

“After the press conference, I’ll go check out the other basement unless you want to,” Absolem’s Riddle paged.

* * *

“Hey, I’ve got something really important to ask you,” Arclight paged Edward. “At the press conference, what name do you want us to say you are?”

“Are you going to get mine right?” she said. “Are you going to give them the right one?”

“Protean’s the one doing the press conference,” Arclight said.

“Do you know my name, Protean,” she sent a text.

“Absolon’s Riddle?” he texted back.

“Absolem’s Riddle, yes,” she texted him. “Like Alice in Wonderland.”

“I never really thought of a name for myself,” Edward finally texted back.

“It’s kind of between Cool Croc and Vicegrip,” Arclight texted. “Which one do you like more?”

“Those are my options?” Edward texted.

“I mean, the public’s already kind of run with Cool Croc,” Arclight texted. “I could probably make Vicegrip work. It’ll be hard, but if I say it at the press conference today, you might be known as Vicegrip.”

“Do I have to be mentioned in the press conference?” Edward texted.

“Yes,” Arclight texted.

“You will be mentioned in the press conference,” Absolem’s Riddle sent.

“Why?” Edward texted.

“Actually, we don’t need to mention him,” Protean texted. “Because, what I aim to do in the press conference is drive the exotics out.”

“Drive them out?” Absolem’s Riddle texted.

“Yes,” he texted back. “I want to make a statement to the exotics.”

“So, you want them to be expelled from Charlotte?” Absolem’s Riddle texted.

“No,” Protean texted.

“What he’s saying is he wants to say something that will make them show themselves,” Arclight said.

“Isn’t that what FORCE always tries to get them to do?” she said.

“I’m currently at a park in Druid Hills North,” Protean texted. “I think this is a good location to try and get the exotics to meet us.”

“Won’t other people try to come too?” Absolem’s Riddle texted.

“This park is really shitty,” Protean texted.

“If you make a press conference saying ‘Hey exotics, meet us here,’ one: that’s calling out all bad exotics,” she texted. “Two: that’s calling out a huge audience.”

“Perhaps that’s what they are looking for,” Protean texted.

“I think I’m just going to run with Vicegrip,” Arclight texted.

“But I don’t grip people,” Edward texted.

“Yet,” Arclight texted him back.

* * *

Edward heard movement and made himself ready. Two middle school aged kids came down the steps and stopped at the bottom in the dark. They took two cigarettes out of a crumpled pack and one of them lit them.

“Let’s get some hookers!” one said, affecting a deeper voice.

They hadn’t noticed Edward so he jumped out.

“Smoking is bad for you!” he screamed. “You could start a fire down here!”

The two kids screamed and fled up the steps, dropping the lit cigarettes, the lighter, and the pack. He put out the cigarettes with his foot. The Marlboro pack proved to be half filled with more cigarettes. He disposed of that and the lighter and then hid himself again.

About a half hour later, the two boys came back with an older boy of probably 15 or 16. One of the kids was babbling about a monster in the basement.

“He was right here!” one of the kids said. “He jumped out at us. He said ‘If you smoke I’m gonna kill you.’”

“That’s not what he said,” the other kid said. “He said smoking’s bad for us.”

“Why were two smoking?” the older boy said.

“Nothing,” one of the kids said.

“You sons of *****es!” the older kid said. “Did you steal my cigarettes again?”

The conversation went on for several minutes before the older boy, disgusted, took the younger boys back up out of the basement, demanding to know what they’d done with his cigarettes.

“What have you guys done?” Edward sent a page. “I’ve stopped two kids from smoking down here.”

“What?” Arclight paged back.

* * *

At 5 p.m. the press conference was held on the steps of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department. Several members of the press were there. The newspaper reporters had pens, paper, and audio recorders. Several cameras had also been set up and a small podium with several microphones was on the top step. Behind it was an American flag on one side and the North Carolina flag on the other. Absolem’s Riddle was there in her secret identity with a few other civilians who had come to watch.

“Protean wanted to make an announcement,” Police Chief Arnold Dean said. “Thank you all for coming. And I’ll just hand it over to him.”

Protean, in his wooden body, walked up to the podium. Arclight walked up and stood beside him. Doug was on the other side, standing in a regal pose. Arclight had coached him on keeping his chin up and having good posture. Once he was sitting there, he watched the crowd suspiciously.

“This is a message to the exotics responsible for burning down the two apartment buildings this week,” Protean said.

“Yeah!” Arclight said.

“And endangering innocent lives,” Protean said.

“Yeah!” Arclight said.

“I want to issue a challenge!”

“Uh … huh?”

“Why don’t you try to burn something your own size?”

“Uh …”

“I’m going to be at the old Roustabout Park of Druid Hills and I want you to meet me there.”

“Uh-huh,” Arclight said, looking a little confused. “Uh-huh.”

“This may be a dangerous fight so I advise all civilians to keep their distance,” Protean said.

In the audience, Absolem’s Riddle slapped her forehead so hard it left a red mark.

“Protean, are you going to answer questions?” one of the newsmen asked.

“Maybe my man Arclight?” Protean said.

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!” Arclight said, moving to the podium.

“Do you think it’s a good idea to actually call out super villains?” one newsman asked.

“I do,” Protean said. “Because I don’t want to wait around for another apartment fire to confront these guys.”

“Arclight!” someone called.

“Protean!” someone else called.

“What are you views on the Thom Tillis murders?” someone asked.

“Uh … very bad thing,” Protean said.

“Who are you voting for?” someone else asked. “For senate?”

“Uh … I don’t … I don’t think I’m even registered to vote,” Protean said.

“Oh!” one of the local tabloid reporters said. “So, Protean’s against voting.”

“In any case, I have no time to lose!” Protean said.

He walked away from the podium.

There were a few more questions, some of them about Roustabout Park. Arclight was asked if it was safe and weren’t there families in the area. One reported asked if they shouldn’t have done the thing outside of town.

“I stand behind my teammate’s action,” Arclight said. “And I believe that us confronting this as soon as possible is the best way to save the most lives.”

“What’s the name of your team, Arclight?” a reporter asked.

In the audience, Absolem’s Riddle struggled frantically to get her pager out.

“Arclight and … Arclight and the Outliers,” Arclight said. “That is official. There will be no need to ask us what our team name is from here on. Thank you for your time, I must help Protean.”

He walked away from the podium, calling to Doug, who followed.

“Is that a dog in a costume?” someone asked.

Arclight caught up to Protean.

“So, I’m going to let you handle this battle at the park, but I’ll be there watching over the park as well,” Arclight said. “I think it’s important that you’re the only one at the park.”

“Uh … okay,” Protean said.

“I’ll be on a building above the park,” Arclight said. “Ready to swoop in if anything happens.”

Absolem’s Riddle caught up with them.

“You didn’t say you were going to ask for a fight!” Absolem’s Riddle said. “That’s not okay! You can’t just say ‘Hey, come fight everybody,’ and then not tell us that’s what you’re gonna do!”

“I think it’s a good call,” Arclight said.

“Yeah, but you−” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I thought it was the best course of action to save innocent lives,” Protean said.

“It’d be really nice to talk about this,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Especially something that big.”

“No, he said was going to call ‘em out,” Arclight said. “That’s what I thought. That’s what I thought he was gonna do.”

“And I said ‘What do you mean?’” she went on. “‘Are you trying to get them to leave Charlotte?’ ‘No, I just have the good ones and tell the bad ones to go away.’ That’s not what you did. You said ‘Come fight me, *****es.’ That’s totally different!”

“Yeah, I liked it,” Arclight said. “That was really good. What’s the problem?”

“It’s just, it would be nice to, like, talk about it,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Perhaps I should have told you guys exactly what I wanted to do,” Protean said.

“That would have been nice,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Especially since we are acting as a group and we agreed to be a group. It’s just … it’s just kind of frustrating that … yeah. We need to act like a group if we’re going to be a group.”

“Well, we weren’t getting any new leads …” Protean said.

“Right,” she said. “It’s just … next time … tell us?”

“I mean, if this saves an apartment building from being burned, I think it’s worth it,” Arclight said.

“I hope it does,” Protean said.

“And that … is … fine and it would be great,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “I’m just asking for, like, you know, not talking for everyone until you talk to everyone?”

“But Edward’s still at Druid South,” Arclight said. “We need someone at Druid North.”

“Yeah. That’s what I mean,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “We don’t really have a plan.”

“Yeah,” Protean said to Arclight.

“We didn’t talk about anything,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Shouldn’t we have talked about a strategy before we called them out? Like anything? Like a plan?”

That was my strategy,” Protean sad. “Just to call them out. In any case, I will stand guard at the park, waiting for them.”

“I … I liked it,” Arclight said. “I thought it was a good idea, personally.”

“But we don’t even have everybody,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I think, honestly thought, we’re a team, but at the same time, Vanguard’s not here, Flip’s not here,” Arclight said. “We don’t have to be−”

“Flip’s disappeared,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “And so has Magic Man.”

“He might come back,” Arclight said.

“Yeah, but−” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“They’re not telling us what they’re doing right now,” Arclight said.

“Yeah,” Protean said.

“I don’t feel like we need to always tell each other everything,” Arclight said.

“Yeah, but it’s different fighting regular people than fighting exotics,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Because usually we just do one exotic. But you just called out ‘All you exotics who are bad come fight us.’ We don’t know how many there are.”

“He called out who burned the apartments,” Arclight pointed out.

“That’s true,” Absolem’s Riddle admitted. “But there are ones that are likely to be bad.”

“Yeah, and we’ll handle ‘em all tonight!” Arclight said.

“I believe we can take ‘em,” Protean said.

“You don’t know how many this guy has in his group though,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “I know that you barely can die at all but some of us are a lot more prone to being able to not live.”

“I’ve seen you all in battle,” Protean said.

Arclight paged Edward.

“So, we might be having a showdown at the park,” he sent a page.

“What?” Edward paged back.

“Protean just called out the people that have been lighting the apartments on fire,” Arclight paged. “He wants them to meet him at the park to fight.”

“Oh,” Edward paged back. “By himself?”

“I mean, I’m going to be here with him,” Arclight paged back. “But, do you want me to come get you real quick?”

“Yeah,” Edward paged. “I think we should all be there for that. We need to be strong.”

“All right,” Arclight paged. “Me and Doug will come get you.”

“K,” Edward paged back.

“Guys, I’m gonna go get Edward,” Arclight told the others. “I know where all the addresses are so if a fire does happen, we’re in this park so we’re close to both apartments. I think we’ll be fine.”

He flew away.

“We don’t even know if they’re going to show up,” Absolem’s Riddle said to Protean.

“We don’t know,” Protean admitted. “But at least we’ve tried to get them.”

“But if they don’t, they know we’re on to them-ish,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “And if it is the owner of these apartment buildings, then he knows we know where these apartments are, so he might not show up here and he might not even light any more on fire, unless it’s him. Because Arclight basically stormed in and said ‘You’re the one lighting these fires.’ Kind of pissed him off a little bit.”

“I wasn’t there for that,” Protean said.

“Just letting you know,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “There’s a ton of possible things. That’s why we need to communicate.”

They arrived at Roustabout Park. They could just make out the fourth floor of Druid Hills North a few blocks away. Arclight and Edward arrived shortly after.

Absolem’s Riddle climbed into a tree and shrunk herself to a tiny size to hide. Protean simply stood in the middle of the park. Arclight found a nearby building that overlooked the park with Doug. They played games on his phone. Edward expertly hid in behind a dumpster nearby where he could see the park and the top of the apartment complex. He could see Absolem’s Riddle hiding in the nearby tree.

* * *

Around 8 p.m., they all got a page from Absolem’s Riddle that she was going to the basement of the Druid Hills North Apartment building.

Shortly after that, Edward sent a page.

“I don’t feel safe that they’ll know we’ll be here,” he sent. “They could attack the apartments while they know we’re not there.”

“They only know that Protean’s here though,” Arclight texted back.

“Why don’t you go to the South Apartment?” Absolem’s Riddle texted. “I’ve already been there. I can teleport if something happens.”

“I will send a blank page to everybody the minute I sense danger,” Protean sent.

“Sounds good,” Edward texted.

He left for the south apartments and tried to sneak into the basement again. He wasn’t very sneaky.

“That’s him!” someone screamed. “It’s the monster!”

It was one of the kids he’d scared earlier that day. Edward ran over and gave him a noogie on the head.

“Don’t smoke!” he said.

The kid screamed, freaking out. Edward chucked and let go of the kid, who ran away. Edward laughed.

“Kids,” he said.

He hid in the basement again, searching it a little bit more carefully. It was about two and a half feet across and apparently led into the storm sewers. He realized he could get into the building without using the front door if he wanted. It also meant a way for villains to get into the basement. It was a rather narrow opening, however.

* * *

Arclight stayed on the roof until 1 a.m. Then he messaged Protean he was going to head out but he’d keep his pager on. Edward paged back he found a storm grate that led to the sewers from the basement of the apartment building at Druid Hills South. Absolem’s Riddle paged nothing had happened there.

“Nice work Vicegrip!” Arclight paged.

* * *

Absolem’s riddle stayed in the basement of the apartment building in Druid Hills North until dawn.

Edward had made a bed out of the artificial Christmas trees at Druid Hills South. Nothing happened that night.

* * *

Protean got a private page from Chief Arnold the next morning, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.

“A note has been delivered for you,” it read.

He walked to the police station and got the note. It read: “We’ll see you Saturday.” It was signed “The Flamer.”

“Hey guys, I got a note from somebody calling himself ‘The Flamer,’” he paged the others. “Saying he’ll meet us Saturday. I presume at the park.”

“Lol!” Arclight paged back.

“Let’s prepare,” Edward paged.

“You guys want to do, like, some teamwork exercises?” Protean texted.

“Get a water body,” Edward texted. “He can’t do anything to you.”

“Hey yeah,” Protean texted. “That could be a good idea.”

“Can you hold it together?” Absolem’s Riddle texted.

“I could try,” Protean texted.

“It’s something to try since we got time,” Edward texted. “Okie dokie. I mean … assuming the ice guy doesn’t show up as well.”

“My steel body and my concrete body are probably fire- and ice-proof,” Protean texted.

“Probably,” Edward texted.

“But I thought the wooden body would be more poetic.”

“Why? Both of those people can destroy a wooden body.”

“I called them out in a wooden body and they responded. But I think we should get together and do some exercises and see if we can combine our powers in unique ways.”

“I don’t have powers.”

“Okay, well, where do you guys want to meet?” Arclight texted.

They discussed it through text messages for some time. Arclight suggested the park but Protean didn’t think they should display their powers there. Arclight noted they could leave Charlotte. Protean said they had until Saturday. They discussed it and Absolem’s Riddle volunteered her car. She paged Doug, asking “You want to go for a ride? You want to go for a ride in the car?” Arclight suggested Concord, north of Charlotte.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle picked up Edward and Protean and they headed north, Arclight flying. It took them a little while to find Arclight in a fallow farm field. He went to the nearby farmhouse and the owner recognized him. The man was willing to let him use the field for “superhero” stuff. He just asked Arclight not to make any giant holes, and if he did, to fill them back in. Arclight gave him four autographed photographs of himself - 18 through 21. The man left the house as he was only home for lunch, but said his wife would be there as she ran a dog kennel out of one of their outbuildings.

Arclight returned to the others.

“We’re free to use the field and I don’t think they’re going to tell anybody we’re here,” he told them. Then he turned to Protean. “Are we ready to train?”

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Protean said.

Arclight hit the wooden man with his fist. Protean didn’t move and Arclight shook his hand. Protean looked at him and then swung at him but Arclight was able to lean back. The blow missed him completely.

“Ah, this is what we need to do,” Arclight said. “More training like this. Doug, are you watching?”

Doug was watching.

Then Protean grappled Arclight and concentrated for a moment.

“I’m going to try something,” Protean said.

“Is it gonna hurt?” Arclight asked.

“Maybe,” Protean said.

“Give it a shot,” Arclight said.

Protean concentrated and suddenly his wooden body exploded.

“I don’t think that worked!” Absolem’s Riddle shouted.

The explosion knocked Arclight back about two yards and but he managed to keep his feet. Splinters were sticking into his armor.

“Where’s Protean?” Arclight said as he started pulling the splinters out.

“You killed Protean!” Absolem’s Riddle screamed.

“Oh my God!” Arclight said.

“You killed Protean!” Absolem’s Riddle screamed again.

“Was that supposed to happen?” Edward said.

“I don’t think it worked!” Absolem’s Riddle said.

Protean crawled out of the dirt, forming a dirt body as he did so.

“Nice,” he said.

“What was that?” Arclight asked.

“Man, I just discovered how to self destruct,” Protean said.

“Did you have to grab him to test that?” Edward asked.

“No,” Protean said.

“You could’ve just blown up,” Edward said.

“He didn’t have to punch me,” Protean said.

“That’s true,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“True,” Arclight said.

Edward noted he had his rifle and wanted to know a tactic to fight the villains. Absolem’s Riddle said one of them breathed fire and Edward said the other one probably had some kind of ice powers.

“Either that or he has really strange fashion sense,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“True,” Edward said. “But let’s just assume that he’s ice. For all intents and purposes.”

Arclight also tried to see, again, if he could get Doug to fly. He had been trying to teach the dog to fly over the preceding weeks without luck. He took Doug up into the air again to try to teach him to fly once more that day. He dropped the dog and told him to fly. Doug tried but then Arclight caught him. He kept trying. On the fourth try, he dropped Doug the second time as he was wiggling.

“No!” Arclight said.

He was too slow to reach Doug. However, the pug stopped a couple feet above the ground.

“Look look look look!” Doug said. “What’s happening? I can fly!?!”

He moved his legs and started to actually fly.

“Oh my God!” Arclight said.

“Doug can fly?” Protean said.

“Doug can fly!” Arclight said.

“I can fly!” Doug said happily. “I didn’t know I could do that! Wait. Did I?”

“Another hero that can fly …” Edward said despondently. “Another person who has an easy way from going one place to another.”

“I’ll carry you, Edward!” Doug said.

He flew to Edward and gripped the back of his armor with his teeth, then tried to lift the crocodile up.

“Yeah, that’s not gonna work,” Edward said.

“Doggone it!” Doug said.

That made Edward laugh.

Arclight said he was going to get something really quick and left. The others continued their training, experimenting with their powers while Doug flew happily overhead.

Edward suggested Protean fight up close with the villains as he was able to leave his body fairly easily. Absolem’s Riddle pointed out that, so long as she was not within a closed space, she was pretty flexible and powerful. She also noted the Flamer was probably resistant to fire.

Arclight returned within a half hour. He had a few lighters and body spray to use to practice dealing with fire.

“Protean, you ready?” Arclight asked.

Arclight burned Protean with the makeshift flame thrower.

“We don’t have water to put him out if it doesn’t work out,” Edward noted.

“He can just explode his body,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

The fire didn’t really seem to hurt Protean as dirt.

“Edward, are you flame resistant?” Arclight asked.

“No,” Edward said.

“I’m not either,” Doug said. “I don’t think. My costume isn’t.”

“Probably shouldn’t try it,” Arclight said.

“Arclight, I want you to make a continuous stream of fire,” Protean said.

“Okay,” Arclight said.

“Just in the air,” Protean said.

Arclight nodded and pointed the nozzle into the air and sent a burst of flame up for over a minute. Protean concentrated on the fire and tried to project himself into it but had no luck. He wondered if it was because the fire was more of a chemical reaction than an actual element or substance. After a minute, his eyes flickered back on.

“I tried to project myself into that flame, but I couldn’t do it,” he told them.

“It’s better for us to try it here then when he’s near us,” Arclight said.

Absolem’s Riddle said she guessed if the Flamer had resistance to fire, he was less likely to have resistance to kinetic things. She suggested she and Protean get the nearest to him. She noted unless they had mental powers, they should be okay.

“Edward’s got a gun!” Doug said. “Will it blow things up?”

“Yep,” Edward said.

“Yea!” Doug said.

Arclight sprayed fire around the others, just to get them somewhat used to the flames. Only Edward seemed completely unphased, though the rest of them flinched and it took some getting used to the flames. Doug was terrified of the fire.

“Are you resistant to fire?” Protean asked.

“I don’t know,” Arclight said. “Shoot it … shoot it at my chest.”

Protean did so and Arclight was pleasantly surprised his armor actually resisted the flames.

“I need someone to keep the fire guy off of me,” Edward said. “Because I can’t take fire directly.”

“I got it,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I was going to suggest that,” Edward said. “Since you can get big and cover a wide area.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I can even pick him up and throw him. But I won’t do that, because we don’t want him to get away.”

“We don’t want to kill him,” Arclight said.

They discussed it and decided that Protean and Absolem’s Riddle should be fighting up close while Arclight and Edward sniped from a distance. Arclight said Doug should stay back with Edward and Doug noted he would be like Edward’s loader.

Protean left his body and got another tree body from the local woods nearby. Absolem’s Riddle punched the empty dirt body, blasting it to pieces with her great strength. Protean walked back with his new wooden body. She asked if he was going to have the wood body when they fought the Flamer.

“I want to draw the fire,” he said.

He noted in the worst case scenario, if the wood body caught on fire, he would self destruct it and get another body. Arclight suggested Protean try a water body and they found a creek nearby. He was able to form a body out of the water, though he found it harder to hold it together. He lost mass constantly as he moved around. When he tried to meditate in the body, it collapsed. He did find he could make a fist and punch with the water body. He ran around and learned he lost mass fairly quickly when he did so, the body falling apart in only a minute or so. Losing mass made him look skeletal and skinny. Absolem’s Riddle noted that if he did have a water body, he could throw himself on any people who might be on fire.

Absolem’s Riddle asked if anyone had learned Morse Code but none of them had. Doug didn’t even know what it was.

Doug wanted to see Edward fire his rifle so Protean found a few dirt clods in the field and flung them into the air so Edward could shoot at them. Doug was very excited about it. Edward aimed his rifle and fired. The beam made a strange, hissing noise as it burned the oxygen in the air. His first shot missed the dirt clod completely. Protean flung a second and the beam blew it to pieces. He missed the third shot as well.

Absolem’s Riddle grew to her hugest size and beat her chest. Her feet sank a little into the ground due to her massive weight at that size. Arclight handed the others a lighter and a can.

“Let’s see how flame resistant she is,” he said.

All three of them used the makeshift flamethrowers on her, none of them able to hit her above the ankle. She felt the two on her right foot, which was where Edward and Protean were burning her. At her size, however, it only mildly injured her. She leaned down and blew as hard as she could on the flames the two were making, blowing both of them out. She lifted up her foot like she was going to kick them.

“How did it work?” Arclight called.

She just shook her head. Then she shrank back to her normal size.

“Did it hurt?” he asked.

“A little bit but not the worst,” she said.

“Good,” he said.

“Enough to annoy me, but that’s because I wasn’t distracted by more important things going on,” she said. “But only on my right leg and that’s probably because they teamed up.”

“Good,” he said. “So, we’re mostly resistant to fire then, except for Edward. But he’s long range anyways, so we should be fine.”

“I wonder how this ice guy fights,” Edward said.

“We don’t know that he’s ice,” Arclight said.

“We can assume,” Edward said.

“I’m not assuming anything,” Arclight said.

“I’m assuming it,” Edward said.

“I only got a response from one person,” Protean said. “It said ‘The Flamer.’ So, I’m assuming that only one is going to show up.”

“I’m just saying, the buildings are being set on fire, not frozen,” Arclight said. “For all we know, this little kid just drew that because she wanted to.”

“But we did get a response from a guy who claimed to be the Flamer,” Protean said.

“Exactly!” Arclight said.

“So, I think we could take this six-year-old drawing as legit evidence that there may be an ice man,” Protean said.

“Nah!” Arclight said. “I don’t think there’s an iceman.”

“What if his hair’s on fire all the time?” Protean said.

“That’s what it looks like,” Edward said. “Looks like his hair’s constantly on fire.”

They continued training for the rest of the day. Absolem’s Riddle tried to practice using her long braided hair as a weapon without success.

* * *

On Saturday, October 25, 2014, Absolem’s Riddle told them the Flamer had not told them where he’d meet them, so it could be at the park or one of the other apartment buildings. She said she thought they should guard all three. Protean noted the note said “See you Saturday” after he called him out at the park.

Arclight and Protean both got texts from Chief Arnold wanting to know if there was going to be some kind of confrontation and where. He noted he wanted to cordon off the area to protect citizens. They sent back that they were going to be at Roustabout Park in the Druid Hills North neighborhood. Arclight also asked him to have a fire truck on the scene and he texted back he’d certainly have one. He further noted the police and firemen would stay back to let Arclight and the Outliers do their thing.

They discussed who would be where. At first, Arclight suggested that Absolem’s Riddle be north and Edward be south. But then he changed his mind.

“But I can teleport him in,” she said.

“Exactly,” he said. “You can teleport to the park and he can run.”

* * *

Murray McDonald, Arclight’s agent, also called him.

“Murray, what’s up?” Arclight answered.

“Yeah, hey, Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios called,” Murray said. “They want you to do some advertising for them.”

“Nice,” Arclight said.

“You’re supposed to meet with Papa Franchetti,” Murray went on. “I’m supposed to arrange it. When can you meet with him?”

“I’m kind of busy today.”

“That’s fine. We’ll do it Monday.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll be in touch, babe.”

“All right.”

He hung up.

* * *

Edward didn’t try to sneak into the apartment building in Druid Hills North. He knew he was supposed to be there. He sat on the floor of the lobby and sent a text to page him when they showed up. Protean sent back that he would send a blank message from his pager when they arrived.

People noticed him and seemed unsure about him.

“If you can see the park from the roof of North, why aren’t you here?” Edward texted to Arclight. “That way, if something happens, you could just pick me up and fly me other there.”

Arclight, on top of a building that overlooked the park, checked the pager. Doug was jumping up into the air and doing back flips, using his flight to do so successfully. He’d never been able to do it before.

“Because you’re not resistant to fire,” Arclight texted back.

“Drop me off at a distance,” Edward texted back. “Like air drop.”

“Nope,” Arclight texted.

“I just want to get there in time,” Edward texted. “I’m just going to be running there and I’m going to get there when the fight is over.”

“It’s not that far,” Arclight texted.

“That’s going to take me like 15 minutes to run,” Edward texted.

“It won’t take you very long,” Arclight texted.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle snuck into the apartment building of Druid Hills South. No one really noticed her. She went down to the basement. She had brought a Simon game and she and Ñaro played the game without sound while they waited.

* * *

It was after dark when someone came down the steps where Absolem’s Riddle was keeping watch in the basement of the Druid Hills South apartment building. It was two men.

“I thought they were gonna meet us here,” one of them said, his voice very effeminate.

“Just be patient,” the other man said.

They spotted her just as she spotted them.

One of them wore a red, skintight outfit that consisted of a red, sleeveless shirt with some kind of black bird emblem upon it. He had a gold belt with a large red stone set in the belt buckle. He also wore tight pants that were mostly red, though the red gave way to black around the knees, with the black forming what appeared to be flames. He wore tall, black boots, a black cape, and had a black mask on. His hair was teased up and very red.

The other man was in blue and white. His costume was also skin tight, though looked thicker than his companion’s. The top was long-sleeved and white around the shoulders turning to a light blue on his arms and the sides of his body. The pattern repeated on his pants with white on the interior of his legs and blue on the exterior. He had white gloves and boots with white fur fringe upon them and a white belt with some kind of gun holstered on his right side. His head was covered and he wore goggles over his eyes. His skin only showed where his mouth and nose were not covered. He was very pale as well.

As soon as the man in red saw her, he seemed to get very excited, even as he quickly pulled her pager out and started texting as fast as possible.

“I’m the Flamer!” he said, his voice obviously the effeminate one, putting his hands on his hips and turning away from the man in blue and white.

“I can tell!” she replied, sending the page, which read “In South.”

“Sh!” he said. “Don’t interrupt, darling. Don’t interrupt please. I didn’t interrupt you when you were pushing your buttons. All right. Start over. Okay. I’m the Flamer!”

“And I’m Absolute Zero,” the other man said, crossing his arms in front of himself and putting his back to the Flamer.

“And together we are …” the Flamer said, making a flourish with his hand. “Fire and …”

He looked to his left at Absolute Zero.

“Together we are Fire …” he said again.

“I don’t want to do this,” Absolute Zero said.

“You promised!” the Flamer said.

“I know but …” Absolute Zero said.

“We can’t be a super villain team without a hook!” the Flamer said. He turned to Absolem’s Riddle. “Will you excuse us for just a minute? I’m so sorry.”

He turned to Absolute Zero.

“You said you would do this!” he said. “You promised.”

“I feel silly,” Absolute Zero said.

“Look, we’re the talent,” the Flamer said. “They’re just the straight men, no offense. They have to have something to play off of.”

“But …” Absolute Zero said.

“Do you want me to switch sides? Because I’ll do it in a cold minute! I’ll be one of those dramatic villains who sees the error of his ways and joins with the superheroes to take you out! AND … and … you’ll be sleeping on the couch for a week.”

“C’mon …”

“No! You promised and you’re going to do.”

“Okay. Okay. I’ll do it.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I’m sorry. Just … let’s get it over with.”

The Flamer clapped his hands and hopped in the air.

“Okay. Okay. Okay. I’m so nervous now! Okay. Okay. Okay,” he said.

He was a bit flustered but obviously happy. He struck his pose again.

“So … I’m the Flamer!” he said.

“And I’m Absolute Zero,” the other said.

“And together we are Fire and …” the Flamer said with a flourish

“Ice,” Absolute Zero said, flourishing as well so the backs of their hands met at the bottom.

The Flamer immediately broke character and turned to clap his hands and thank Absolute Zero again, giving the other man a hug.

“Scene,” he said, putting his hand in front of his face. “Okay.”

He gestured at Absolem’s Riddle.

“Okay, go ahead,” he said to her.

He put his hands to his lips and watched her carefully. She just blinked.

“Do your thing,” he said. “What is your thing? You have to do, like, an introduction because we’re going to battle it up! Battle Royale!”

* * *

“Pick me up, Arclight,” Edward texted as soon as Absolem’s Riddle’s page came through.

“What?” Arclight said.

“They’re in the south apartments,” Edward texted.

“That’s what it means?” Arclight texted.

“That’s what I’m assuming,” Edward texted.

Arclight took off and flew to the Druid Hills North.

“Are you coming?” came another page from Absolem’s Riddle.

* * *

“We’re coming,” came over Absolem’s Riddle’s pager from Edward.

“You guys want to pick me up?” came from Protean.

“I can’t,” Arclight texted. “I’m getting Edward.”

“Okay,” Protean texted. “I’m on my way.”

She looked up at the two men who were watching her.

“So, you wanted an intro, right?” she said.

“Yes!” the Flamer said shortly.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll give you one. But be patient. Hold that thought.”

She vanished.

* * *

Edward exited the apartment building at Druid Hills North as Arclight and Doug landed on the ground in front of the building. Arclight picked up Edward and helped him onto his back. Then they flew towards the apartment building in Druid Hills South.

“Why did they show up at the building?” Edward asked him. “Why not at the park?”

“I don’t know,” Arclight said.

“We said we’d meet them,” Edward said.

“It was a trick,” Arclight said.

“They’re stupid,” Edward said.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle, after a few teleports, appeared in Roustabout Park as Protean was leaving. She told Protean she was going to drop him at the front of the building but the villains were in the basement. She told him to come down to get them and said she guessed Arclight was on the way. Then she shrunk down and teleported back to Druid Hills South with him.

She got in a pose on the ground and teleported alone back to where she’d been.

“Oo oo oo oo!” the Flamer said.

She stood up, snapping a finger and singing “Duh-duh-nah!” That lasted for about 10 seconds before the Flamer interrupted her.

“No no no!” he said. “This is a terrible introduction. You have to incorporate your name! There’s no singing!”

“I wasn’t done,” she said.

“It’s not musical theater!” he said.

“Hey!” she said. “Did I interrupt you when you were doing your seven million displays?”

“Well, actually you did,” the Flamer said.

“Once,” she said.

The two started to argue.

* * *

Protean got to the basement stairs to see Absolem’s Riddle spin. Both of the men at the bottom turned to look at him as she did jazz hands. The Flamer looked excited when he saw the wooden hero.

“Oh!” he said with a smile. “They set an ambush!”

“That’s not a good thing,” Absolute Zero said.

“We can’t fight here!” Protean said. “We were supposed to meet at the park!”

The Flamer sighed.

“I’m a super villain,” he said. “I don’t have to meet anyplace I don’t want to.”

He shook his head.

“We haven’t introduced ourselves to you!” he suddenly said. “Wait. Are there more people here?”

“Um …” Protean said. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” The Flamer said. “Get ‘em in here!”

“All right,” Protean said.

Absolute Zero had put his hand on his holster. He watched Absolem’s Riddle very closely.

Protean walked slowly down the steps. The Flamer moved back from the steps with Absolute Zero. Absolem’s Riddle vanished again.

* * *

Edward and Arclight entered the building. Edward saw Protean go behind the steps. As they approached the stairs, Arclight headed up.

“Yo!” Edward said. “Downstairs.”

“You think?” Arclight said.

“I just saw Protean heading downstairs,” Edward said.

“Okay,” Arclight said.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle appeared outside the apartment building and saw Arclight and Edward. They spoke briefly and then headed around the steps to the basement. Edward took out his rifle.

She teleported back to the basement. Protean had reached the bottom of the steps by that time. The Flamer’s hands suddenly burst into flames.

“Don’t try anything before we have a chance to … introduce ourselves,” he said dramatically.

He wiggled a finger at them. Protean nodded.

Just then Arclight and Edward reached the top of the steps.

“Oh! Oh!” the Flamer said when he spotted them. “There they are! C’mon!”

“Why are you trying to kill poor people?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“What?” The Flamer said. “We’re not … sh. I’ll do my villainous rant in a moment. First: introductions.”

* * *

“Shoot him,” Arclight whispered to Edward.

“C’mon down, we have our villainous introduction!” the Flamer called with a friendly wave.

“Shoot him,” Arclight whispered again.

“All right, leader,” Edward replied.

Arclight fired up his energy shield.

* * *

“I am Protean!” Protean said.

He flexed his wooden muscles.

“Ooo,” the Flamer said.

“I put myself in danger so that the innocent don’t need to,” Protean went on.

That’s an introduction,” the Flamer said to Absolem’s Riddle.

“And right now, we are in the basement of an innocent dwelling,” Protean said. “Why do you want to−?”

“Yes!” the Flamer said. “That’s going to make it very hard for you, isn’t it? Hey, c’mon down! You’re missing this!”

He waved at the two at the top of the steps. Arclight edged himself in front of Edward, shielding the crocodile with his body and his shield.

“Take the shot,” he whispered to Edward. “Shoot him. That’s the guy. From the picture.”

“I believe we should throw down, but not here,” Protean said. “We need to go outside. Then you’ll get the whole hero/villain showdown that you’ve always wanted.”

“Hmm,” the Flamer said, considering it. “That does sound good.”

Absolute Zero just shook his head.

“If you want to put on a show, let’s do it for the public,” Protean said. “But not hidden away in the basement of an apartment building.”

“Hmm,” the Flamer said. “That is a pretty good idea.”

He stroked his chin with his burning hand. It didn’t appear to hurt him.

“What would you propose … hero?” he said, putting his hands on his hips and shaking his head so his hair moved dramatically.

“Take the shot!” Arclight hissed at Edward.

“The abandoned park on north−” Protean said.

“No, not that!” the Flamer said angrily. “There’s cops all over the place there!”

“There are?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Well, then let’s do it in the street,” Protean said.

“Right out front?” the Flamer said.

“Yeah,” Protean said.

“All right,” the Flamer said. “Ooo.”

“Take the shot!” Arclight hissed at Edward.

The Flamer turned to Absolute Zero.

“All right,” the other villain said. “Fine.”

“You heroes lead the way!” the Flamer said. “We’ll be right behind you.”

“All right,” Protean said.

“We should burn this place too,” the Flamer said. “All right, fine. We’ll wait until we defeat them.”

Protean walked up the steps, his back to the villains.

“What the hell are you doing!?!” Arclight said to him. “They’re right down there! Let’s get ‘em!”

“We can’t fight here!” Protean said.

“Why not?” Arclight said.

“Because, there’s people in this apartment building,” Protean said.

“Edward, take the shot!” Arclight said.

The villains followed Protean up the stairs. Doug was very excited.

“This is just like a comic book!” he said.

Absolem’s Riddle teleported to the lobby with the others.

“Do you want me to teleport you to the top of the roof?” she said to Edward.

“I don’t care,” he replied.

“So you just want to be close-ranged like you said you didn’t want to do?” she said.

“Man, he’s not going to do much,” Edward said.

“Just because he’s gay does not mean−”

“I’m not insinuating that at all!”

“Just because he’s flamboyant … flame-boyant …”

“No, I’m hoping he has no armor.”

“You don’t know that.”

“A couple of shots or punches and he’ll be down for good.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’ll be surprised.”

“It could be invisible.”

The two villains followed them out to the front of the apartment building. People in the lobby looked very surprised.

“Ooo, there’s more here!” the Flamer said when he saw Arclight and Edward. “There’s more! Okay, who’s next for introductions? Protean … has done it right.”

He looked at Absolem’s Riddle. She flipped him off.

“Oh yeah,” the Flamer said. “No class.”

He looked at Arclight again.

“Oh! It’s Arclight!” he said. “Oh my God! Okay, Arclight … we should do ours again. We should do ours again. Is this all of you?”

“Yes,” Edward said.

“Okay, are you ready?” the Flamer said to Absolute Zero. Then he posed. “I’m the Flamer!”

Arclight flew at him, fists out, but the Flamer suddenly ducked under the blow. Arclight was really surprised he missed. Absolute Zero drew the gun from his holster.

“Introductions be damned!” he said as he spun a dial on the side of the silver gun with his thumb.

He fired at Arclight. A blast of ice burst from the gun with a loud, cracking noise, but missed Arclight completely. It hit the side of the building, which was covered in a thick sheet of ice. Arclight just nodded his head.

“All right,” he said.

He looked at Edward.

“You were right about the ice!” he said.

Absolem’s Riddle grew to an immense size, swinging at the Flamer as she did so. The Flamer leapt into the air to avoid her blow, which gouged out some of the concrete under him.

“Tsk tsk tsk,” he said. “Girl, just ‘cause you ain’t got no introduction.”

Protean ran towards Absolute Zero as Edward shot the man in blue and white, his laser sizzling the air between them. The blast struck the man but merely burned his costume.

“That’s my introduction!” Edward said.

The Flamer moved to one side.

“You’re the only one that introduced himself!” he said to Protean.

He blasted the hero with flames, burning him and catching him on fire. Arclight flew at the Flamer and swung at him, punching him right in the face. The blow knocked him back several meters though he kept his feet as he skidded to a stop.

“Now you’re on my bad list,” he said.

Arclight danced a little bit, mocking him.

Absolute Zero turned and fired a blast from his frigid gun at Edward. The blast hit Edward and, though the cold didn’t hurt him at all due to his resistance, the ice covered him from the shoulders down to his feet, holding him. Absolem’s Riddle, some 10 meters tall, ran between Edward and Absolute Zero.

“Girl, you need to lose some weight!” the Flamer called to her.

She swung at Absolute Zero, trying to knock him into the Flamer. He didn’t even see it coming and she slammed him, knocking him towards the Flamer, who saw and dodged out of the way with a cry. Absolute Zero slammed into the wall of the apartment building and careened off to the side, crashing to the ground nearby.

Protean’s target had been knocked away and so the burning superhero rushed at the Flamer and leapt at the man, landing near him.

“Nicely done,” the Flamer said sarcastically.

Then Protean exploded in a burst of fiery splinters. The Flamer ducked out of the way. A few splinters struck Arclight harmlessly.

“Doug! Go get the cops!” Arclight yelled.

“I got it!” Doug yelled.

He turned north, floated up about three feet, then posed with one of his forelegs out in front of him and the other tucked under him. He flew up the street at speed.

“And I’m Doug the Pug!” he called as he flew out of sight.

Edward broke out of the ice and ran for Absolute Zero, stopping over the prone man.

“I’m tired of this shit!” the Flamer said.

Flames came out of his feet, blasting and blackening the sidewalk, as he flew up about 10 meters to Absolem’s Riddle’s face and blasted her with fire from his hands. The blasts completely missed her.

“Well done!” she said with sweet sarcasm, effecting a more feminine note to her voice.

“Oh no, you didn’t!” the Flamer said.

Arclight flew to Absolute Zero and tried to punch him in the face, but the man quickly ducked his head to one side and Arclight’s fist struck the concrete, shattering it. Then he got back to his feet. He cracked his neck, turning his head to each side slowly. Arclight realized he was putting on an act and thought the man had probably actually been hurt by the blow.

Absolem’s Riddle tried to smash the Flamer between her hands but he dropped a few feet, ducking out of the way. Her giant hands came together with a crash that shattered some of the windows nearest to them. Protean, meanwhile, floated invisibly up to the fourth floor and made a body out of the cheap, crumbling concrete of the building. The Flamer flew up about 30 meters above her head and then fired flames down onto her. The flames just sort of sloughed off her.

“I’m not the only one flaming here!” he called down to her.

Arclight looked over his shoulder and laughed briefly. Then he swung at Absolute Zero again but the man dodged out of the way.

“Try this!” the villain said.

He aimed at Arclight, who brought his shield up in front of him. The blast went through the energy shield on his left arm but he ducked to one side and the blast missed him completely. It went across the street and struck a kid who had just come out of the hardware store. The child, sucker in hand, barely had time to react before he was completely covered in ice. Arclight looked to see where the blast went.

“Oops!” Absolute Zero said. “You should’ve just taken the hit!”

Absolem’s Riddle grew again, reaching 20 meters and her maximum height. Then she leapt up into the air and swatted the Flamer, knocking him down to the ground below. He managed to stop himself before he hit the ground with a blast of flames from his feet.

Protean, from his vantage point coming out of the side of the building, saw the child get frozen.

“Focus on the fight!” he shouted. “I’ll get the child!”

He tried to jump and land on the Flamer but it was too far a leap and he smashed to the ground behind the man instead. He cracked both the concrete on the ground and the concrete of his legs. It hurt terribly.

I should’ve tried that in training, he thought.

Edward lunged at Absolute Zero, biting his arm and grabbing hold with his jaw. He bit down but didn’t taste blood, to his disappointment. Meanwhile, the Flamer righted himself and gestured at Absolem’s Riddle with his hand for her to bring it. Then he ruined it by talking.

“Bring it!” he said. “Not even a scratch!”

Arclight swung at Absolute Zero’s gun but missed the weapon completely. He almost hit Edward in the head as well.

“What’s wrong with you!?!” Absolute Zero said to Arclight. “Go save that kid, you idiot!”

He grabbed Edward by the jaw and pulled him off his arm. Edward stumbled back. Then he leapt at Absolute Zero again in an attempt to grip his arm again. The man leapt out of the way.

“No!” Absolute Zero yelled at him. “Bad … whatever you are!”

Absolem’s Riddle tried to crush the Flamer under her foot but he easily stepped aside, looking bored. Protean walked off the pain as if he hadn’t just severely hurt himself, and ran for the child, running right by the Flamer. The Flamer flew straight up to about 60 meters, leaving a trail of flame in the air. He posed when he reached a safe height and looked down at Absolem’s Riddle.

“This is for the kid!” Arclight said as he swung at Absolute Zero’s face.

“What kind of hero are you!?!” Absolute Zero shouted at him, ducking out of the way.

He blasted away at Edward.

“Get away!” he shouted.

Ice formed on Edward, entrapping him once again. Absolem’s Riddle slammed her fist into Absolute Zero, knocking him back about 10 meters. He crashed to the ground, landing flat on his back. He managed to keep his hand on his gun though.

Protean reached the child across the street. There was steam over his mouth under the ice. He struck at the ice to try to break the ice away from the boy without hurting him. He broke away the ice around his face.

“It’s cold,” the boy cried. “It’s so cold.”

“*****, you better not touch my man!” the Flamer said to Absolem’s Riddle.

He blasted away at her with fire but she dodged out of the way.

Arclight flew to Absolute Zero and punched the gun but he kept hold of it and stood up to face him again.

Absolem’s Riddle suddenly shrunk out of sight.

Protean, meanwhile, broke the child free of the ice. The little boy was shivering and terribly cold. He had a sucker in one hand and shakily put it to his mouth. Protean looked around and saw a man looking out of the front of the store. He nudged the child towards the guy.

“Take him to the hospital!” he said.

“Okay!” the man said, whipping the door open and dragging the kid into the shop.

Edward smashed his way free of his icy prison once again.

“I said get off my man!” the Flamer cried.

“My man now!” Arclight quipped.

“Oh no, you didn’t!” the Flamer said.

He blasted Arclight with flames but it struck the man’s armor and didn’t hurt him.

“I’m resistant to Flamers,” Arclight quipped.

He flew up to the Flamer and punched him in the face again. The blow didn’t seem to hurt him much but he was not pleased at being touched, apparently.

Absolem’s Riddle, so small she was unnoticed by anyone, teleported to the roof of the apartment building.

“Stay put!” Absolute Zero said to Edward.

“Make me!” Edward said.

Absolute Zero blasted him with the frigid gun, encasing him in ice again.

Protean turned towards Absolute Zero and glared at him. Then he abandoned the cheap concrete body and floated towards him astrally. Edward struggled to break free from the ice and Absolute Zero smirked at him.

“God, you’re annoying!” Edward yelled at him.

Above them, the Flamer and Arclight were locked in mortal combat.

“This is all you get!” The Flamer said, trying to punch him with the flat of his hand, missing. “I don’t want to ruin my manicure.”

Arclight tried to hit Flamer in the face with the flat of his own hand, hitting the villain in the face again. It didn’t seem to hurt him.

Absolem’s Riddle, still tiny, teleported behind Absolute Zero. He started to look around immediately as if he knew something was wrong. He didn’t see her however. Then he aimed at Arclight and fired his frigid gun but the blast missed completely.

Suddenly, the ice around Edward moved in a strange way, sliding off of him to form Protean. Most of the ice formed the hero, leaving only a little around Edward’s feet.

“How’s your legs feel?” Edward asked him.

Above them, the Flamer and Arclight continued to tussle.

“You’ve really raised my ire!” the villain said.

He swung another open handed punch at Arclight and missed the hero completely. Arclight punched him in the face again but didn’t seem to hurt him.

Absolem’s Riddle grew to her immense height again even as Absolute Zero fired his frigid gun at Protean, encasing the ice hero in another sheath of ice.

“Don’t you free him!” he said.

Then the villain suddenly looked to his right where Absolem’s Riddle’s fist was coming at him. As he leapt up over her fist, she managed to knock his aim off and the blast also nearly hit Edward. Protean abandoned the ice body that was trapped. Edward turned and fired his laser rifle at the Flamer. The beam hissed through the air and struck the villain, though it didn’t seem to hurt him.

Then the Flamer reared back his open fist, winding up to punch at Arclight.

“Toodle-oo!” Arclight said.

He flew down and at Absolute Zero, hitting the man in the abdomen. Absolute Zero stumbled back a step and then fired his frigid gun. The blast struck Arclight in the face and covered him in ice from the top down. Suddenly, arms of concrete came out of the sidewalk under Absolute Zero and grabbed at the man’s legs. Edward ran towards Absolute Zero and leapt for his neck but the villain pushed the crocodile back.

“Get off my man!” Flamer yelled. “Fine!”

He clapped his hands.

“Robots attack!” he cried.

Arclight tore himself out of the ice encasing him as Absolute Zero tried to get free of the arms that were pulling him to the pavement. He kicked free as Absolem’s Riddle brought her massive fist down on top of the man. Flamer screamed. When she lifted her fist, Absolute Zero lay unmoving on the pavement, blood on his face. The frigid gun lay on the ground a few feet away.

Protean’s arms flailed around, trying to grab at him again. Then the man, now made of concrete, pulled himself out of the ground.

“You leave him alone!” the Flamer yelled.

The doors of a van across the street opened and three robots stepped out. They were a dull, metallic steel and had three glowing lights on their head to form a face of sorts. Large prongs jutted out of their shoulders and appeared to be cooling vanes of some kind. Each held a very large rifle with a strange appearance. Painted in red on each of their chests was a name: Inferno, Blaze, and Ember. Edward, Absolem’s Riddle, and Protean recognized them as the same type of robots they’d fought when Wane had attacked them the month before.

“This’ll keep you busy!” the Flamer yelled.

He flew down until he was level with the fourth floor of the apartment building and then fired a blast into the window, shattering the glass and starting a fire inside.

Arclight ran to the frigid gun and picked it up. Absolem’s Riddle shrunk until she was about eight feet tall.

“Put out the fire with the ice gun!” she cried.

“What fire?” Arclight said.

She pointed at the flames licking out of the fourth floor window.

“I’ve got the robots!” Protean said.

His eyes stopped glowing again as he abandoned the concrete body.

“Throw me the gun!” Edward said to Arclight as he put his rifle onto his back.

The Flamer flew back a few yards.

“C’mon heroes!” he yelled down at them.

He blasted flames into another window on the front of the apartment building.

Arclight handed off the frigid gun to Edward and then flew at the Flamer, slammed into him and grappling him around the midsection, grabbing his arms as well.

“Fresh!” the flamer yelled.

“--TARGET SELECTED--” each of the robots said.

The three robots aimed their rifles and, with a crash of thunder, fired bolts of lightning at the concrete body of Protean, Absolem’s Riddle, and Edward, all of the blasts missing their targets and blasting the ground around them. Absolem’s Riddle shrunk to her regular size and then teleported to the roof again.

One of the robots started to jerk, sparks flying off it, and then the metal of the body formed into the figure of Protean, eyes glowing brightly. The other two robots turned towards him.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Edward said to the unconscious form of Absolute Zero.

He fired the frigid gun at the man and encased him in ice, leaving his face free as best he could.

“Let me go you big ox!” the Flamer said, trying to break free from Arclight’s grip.

“Um … no,” Arclight said.

“Robots!” the Flamer shouted. “Attack Arclight!”

He looked over at the roof where Absolem’s Riddle stood. Arclight took a look over his shoulder and spotted her as well. Then he dragged Flamer down to the ground near where Edward stood. The two remaining intact robots turned and opened fire on Arclight, both blasts of lightning completely missing and blasting the building.

Absolem’s Riddle teleported behind the robots. Then the Protean-robot exploded, scattering debris all around him. Blaze had been destroyed.

The Flamer tried to break free of Arclight’s grip without luck.

“Let me go you cad!” he shrieked. “I have to see if my boyfriend’s okay!”

“He’s not,” Edward said with a grin.

Arclight let go of the Flamer and brought a fist down on him. That slammed him into the ground pretty hard though it didn’t seem to hurt him.

“Shoot him!” Arclight yelled.

Absolem’s Riddle grew to her maximum size again even as another robot started to shake, sparks coming out of it and it assumed Protean’s shape.

“What’s the dial on the side of the gun do!?!” Edward said.

He spun the little dial the rest of the direction where it had mostly been turned. Then he fired it at Flamer. The blast of ice was intense though didn’t seem as cold. It covered the Flamer in ice as he shrieked like a woman.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Edward said.

The Flamer struggled in the cocoon of ice and broke free.

“Stop!” the Flamer screamed.

“Hey guys,” Arclight said.

He started to fully glow and then extended his hand towards the flamer. He felt his concentration falter when the villain spoke, however.

“What’re you doing, big boy?” the Flamer asked suggestively.

“I … uh …” Arclight said.

The last intact robot fired at Arclight, missing him completely. The blast hit a streetlight, which exploded. Then Absolem’s Riddle kicked the robot and it shattered to pieces. Even the gun flew apart. Protean’s form appeared out of the last robot and he exploded.

Then Doug came flying in.

“Cops are coming!” he said.

They could hear sirens in the distance.

“You hear those sirens?” Edward said. “They’re coming for you.”

He fired the frigid gun at Flamer again, covering him in ice. The Flamer struggled against the ice but couldn’t get free. Arclight began glowing again and held his open hand out at Flamer.

“I’m getting an erection in here!” the Flamer called.

That broke his concentration again.

“Guys, I swear, this is a really cool power!” Arclight said. “If I could just …”

Absolem’s Riddle ran over to where the two villains were being held. Then Protean pulled himself out of the ground. The Flamer tried to break free again but failed once more.

“I’m really tired, everyone,” Arclight said. “I’ve used all my energy.”

Absolem’s Riddle shrunk to her normal size.

“Take off his armor,” she said, gesturing towards Absolute Zero. “Ice man. Armor.”

“He’s in ice,” Edward said.

“Crap!” she said.

“We can’t get to him,” Edward said.

“If he regains consciousness …” she said.

“He’s unconscious though,” Arclight said.

“If he regains consciousness …” she said again.

Protean looked up and then ran into the apartment building. Edward continued to cover Flamer with more ice.

“No!” Flamer yelled. “Stop it! Quit! That is not yours!”

“I’ll keep it after this,” Edward told him.

After that, Edward put more ice on Absolute Zero.

“Here, Arclight,” Edward said, handing over the frigid gun to him.

“Thank you,” Arclight said.

“You can put out those fires with the gun,” Edward said.

The police arrived along with a fire truck, and firemen entered the building. Protean had already taken care of the fires on the upper floors. The Charlotte Super Villain Defense Squad (CSVDS) showed up shortly after that in a black van. They had stronger weapons than the regular police and sent for a crane to move the two villains onto a flatbed truck. They broke Absolute Zero free of the ice and then stripped him of his armored costume, manacling his hands with special manacles for exotics. They told the heroes the villains would be transported to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Criminal Exotics Holding Facility.

Doug flew around a lot.

“We still don’t know why!?!” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Why they were doing this!”

“We can question them later,” Edward said.

“That doesn’t mean they’re going to say anything,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “It looks like there’s a robot villain factory.”

“Robot villain factory?” Edward asked.

“Because those are the same ones from that one guy that we never heard from again,” she said.

“Nice,” Arclight said. “We did it.”

He had hidden the frigid gun on himself during the confusion. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1944-Superworld-Fire-and-Ice-Session-Two-Arsonist-Unveiled
Superworld: Fire and Ice Session One Part 1 - Investigation http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1943-Superworld-Fire-and-Ice-Session-One-Part-1-Investigation Wed, 10 Jun 2015 19:43:45 GMT Monday, June 1, 2015 (After playing the original *Superworld* scenario _Fire and Ice_ Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. with Briant S. Davis, Kyle... Monday, June 1, 2015

(After playing the original Superworld scenario Fire and Ice Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. with Briant S. Davis, Kyle Matheson, Logan Scott, James Brown, Joey Scott, Nissa Campbell, and Aaron Scott.)

Recent News in Charlotte included:

On Monday, October 20, 2014, both the television news and the Charlotte Observer carried stories of the fire in the early morning hours at the Hopeful Hills Apartment Complex in Lockwood Neighborhood. According to the news stories, the three heroes Arclight, Solomon’s Key aka Absolem’s Riddle, and Cool Crocman aka Cool Crocodile Man (reports varied) entered the building and rescued several people trapped by the fire.

“Yes, there is a crocodile who will go unnamed, but he was the true savior here today,” Arclight reportedly said.

It was also reported that Solomon’s Key aka Absolem’s Riddle performed CPR on one woman and saved her life. It was reported Cool Crocman had saved a baby and Arclight saved an old man and his dog and a child, as well as rescuing people off the roof. The best photo in the Charlotte Observer showed Arclight with the little black girl hugging his leg, the burning building behind them.

An artist’s rendition of Cool Crocman was a badly photoshopped picture of medieval armor with a crocodile’s head sticking out of the great helm.

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, the fire marshal determined the fires in the Hopeful Hills Apartment Complex had been deliberately set in the basement and then spread with unprecedented speed to the rest of the building. The case was handed over to the police as arson.

Thom Tillis vowed, if elected to the U.S. Senate in November, he would crack down on exotics in the United States. This came after the slaughter of over 100 Thom Tillis supporters at a fundraiser at Charlotte Country Club on Thursday, October 16, allegedly by a super villain called Dr. Murder. Police continued to investigate the murders and search for the perpetrator.

In world news, on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, NATO intercepted Russian jets over the Baltic Sea while Sweden's six-day search for a possibly damaged Russian Navy submarine continued. Also, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced there would be a 21-day monitoring period for all travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea due to outbreaks of Ebola. In Major League Baseball, the Kansas City Royals defeated the San Francisco Giants 7–2 at KC's Kauffman Stadium in Game Two of the 2014 World Series, evening the series at 1–1.

* * *

Vanguard had been out of town for almost three weeks. After helping the others track down the Gentleman after the Sterling Jewelers Robbery, he had gotten a tip from José about the Cybernetic Automated Nanotech Suit (C.A.N.S.) Project he’d found online. Apparently, a suit much like his had been spotted in the city a year before. The tip seemed to indicate there was some kind of project dealing with it in Philadelphia so he’d gone in search of it, trying to keep as low a profile as possible. The lead turned out to be legitimate. He was not able to get much information about it but did find an abandoned research facility of some sort. It had been totally cleaned out.

He didn’t return to Charlotte until Tuesday, Oct. 21. He found Arclight still lived at his apartment and there was apparently a little pug living there now too. The pug could talk.

“Hey, who’s this guy!?!” Doug the Pug asked when he walked in the door.

The little dog ran over and started sniffing him. He seemed very friendly even if it was somewhat strange. José had managed to get a little costume for Doug the Pug online. It was a blue suit and a red cape. On the chest of it was a yellow badge with a red “D” within it and a red circle around it. Needless to say, Doug loved it.

* * *

Protean had returned to his astral state after the returning the jewelry the Gentleman had stolen. He felt the need to meditate for some time. When he finally returned, finding a dirt body and forming it around himself, he found it had been two weeks since he had been corporeal. He read the newspapers and got caught up. There were even some articles in the newspaper, letters to the editor mostly, by Ruby Lovette, a reporter at WBTV Channel 3, asking where Protean was as he had not been seen.

* * *

Tera, impatient about the Federal Organization for the Registration and Certification of Exotics (FORCE) taking so long to get back in touch with her, flew to Atlanta, Georgia, and found the FORCE offices there. She talked to an agent Beauregard Hanson, who told her he was the rep for her area. She was asked for some DNA, which she was only willing to give as a little skin sample. She proved her powers and was admitted into FORCE, registering her powers and getting her codename (Angelus) and a password for use on the FORCE website.

She also did some research on the FORCE database about aliens. There was not a lot there and very little about the grays. Most of the information she found pertained to the mantoids, the aliens that had invaded Earth in 2000.

She was also told that, as a part of FORCE, she would have access to FBI and Interpol Files, a computer message board where she could contact other superheroes, training on police and other procedures, and even a deputy program.

She returned to Charlotte on Wednesday, Oct. 22.

* * *

Tinker had been working on the rifle they’d gotten from the gray saucer. In order to protect himself from being tracked by the grays, he had set up a rather delicate interference field around his lab. Unfortunately, Absolem’s Riddle had contacted him by cell phone a couple of times while he examined the weapon. He feared the cell phone transmission might weaken his already delicate field and eventually turned off the phone.

He had finally completed his research. He was not terribly happy with what he’d learned.

The weapon was, as far as he could tell, a disintegrator. However, the physics were wrong. It shouldn’t work how it worked and it broke about three laws of physics, including the conservation of energy. When the beam hit its target, it scattered the atoms to such a degree that they essentially vanished, leaving not even dust remaining. The power source was an atom of anti-matter held in a magnetic field. He guessed the atom would charge the weapon for about 10 shots if his calculations of the power usage were correct. He figured he would have to get anti-matter in order to charge it.

He finally checked his messages and found he had a couple, including one from Absolem’s Riddle asking him to make some kind of device to keep dogs away from her sugar glider.

Yeah, anti-matter can wait, he thought sarcastically.

* * *

“Don’t forget to tell him!” Doug the Pug said to Arclight. “Don’t forget to tell him!”

“Oh, okay, thanks man,” Arclight said.

“That thing that you told me to tell him!” Doug said. “What did you tell me to tell him?”

“Iunno,” Arclight said.

“What’s he talking about?” Vanguard asked.

“Agent Smith−” Arclight said.

“Yeah!” Doug said. “That’s right! Agent Smith! That’s right!”

“Yeah, the guy from FORCE, he−” Arclight said.

“No no no!” Doug said. “You didn’t say FORCE. You said the Men in Black.”

“Men in Black …” Arclight said. “They want to talk to you.”

He handed over the card. It read “Agent John Smith” and had a phone number.

“José, what do you know about an Agent Smith?” Vanguard asked.

José told him there was one on The Matrix but it was just a generic name. He also told them about the Men in Black, noting it was a super-secret government organization that hid all UFO contact information from the public. It was a big cover-up conspiracy that might have had to do with Majestic-12 or Delta Green.

“Guys, Vanguard’s back,” Arclight texted everyone on his pager. “With love, Arclight.”

The pager tagged his post so it actually read “With love, Arclight. Arclight.”

As an afterthought he texted “Also, I have a pug. With love, Arclight.”

“I’m on my way,” Tinker texted back.

Tinker sent a text to Absolem’s Riddle that if she could get him a car alarm, he could make her the device she wanted.

“How will that fit?” she texted back.

“I just need to see how it works and then I can make it smaller,” Tinker texted.

“And that won’t hurt his ears?”Absolem’s Riddle texted.

“And a pair of earmuffs,” he texted back.

“Regular people earmuffs?” she texted.

“I just need to find out how they work,” Tinker texted back.

“Where the party at?” Protean texted to everyone.

“Come to this address,” Vanguard texted and included his address at 728 Grandin Road.

When Protean arrived at the apartment in his steel body, only a few blocks from where he lived in the sewer, he found Arclight trying to play video games with a pug, who was not having any luck due to his lack of opposable thumbs. Tinker, Absolem’s Riddle, and Angelus arrived as well. Doug seemed very glad to meet everyone. He was a little confused at Protean, who only smelled like the sewer. The huge steel man petted Doug.

Absolem’s Riddle had a box of stuff for Tinker. Tinker carried the rifle they’d gotten from the grays.

“Hey, who are you?” Doug asked Tinker. “Cool costume.”

“What the ****?” Tinker said.

“I’m Doug the pug!” Doug said.

“He’s my dog,” Arclight said.

“I’m not in costume right now because I’m in my secret identity!” Doug said.

“That makes the fourth thing I’ve discovered in the past week that just makes no sense,” Tinker said.

He held up the rifle.

“It … it … it it it shouldn’t work, to begin with,” he said. “I don’t know how it does. If anyone understands anything about anti-matter, that would be great.”

“There’s always Germany and France,” Vanguard said. “The supercollider, they’ve been working on it for a while.”

“That’s true,” Tinker said. “I don’t know how I could get there, though.”

“Where’d you get this rifle in the first place,” Protean said. “I’ve been out of the loop for a while.”

“So glad you’re alive,” Tinker said.

“No hard feelings, man,” Protean said.

“Wait, what happened between you two?” Arclight asked.

“He totally killed me and sent me to the astral plane,” Protean said.

“What!?!” Arclight said. “Why?”

“Because I was being controlled,” Tinker said. “By that dickhead.”

“Weren’t you both being controlled?” Angelus said.

“Yeah,” Tinker confessed. “So, I don’t know. It uses an incredibly minute amount of antimatter to charge. I’m afraid to use it because I don’t know how to get antimatter and I haven’t had a chance to study it right. I don’t have the right equipment in my apartment.”

“So, if you touch it, do you disappear?” Absolem’s Riddle asked.

“No, but if you get hit the beam−” Tinker said.

“I meant the antimatter,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Is that what the beam is: antimatter?”

“I haven’t had a chance to fire it because I just know that it disrupts matter.”

“Don’t so it indoors.”

“Yeah. So I brought it.”

“That’s a good idea. Is there a safety lock on that thing?”

“I just … I don’t trust it. You know.”

There was a small device attached to the disintegrator rifle that Tinker had crafted in the hopes it would block any signal the device might be sending the grays.

“Whoa whoa whoa,” Protean said. “Aliens?”

“Yeah,” Tinker said.

“I mean, if it was related to the CANS Project, my whole suit could deal with aliens,” Vanguard said. “You never know.”

“Me and Edward fought with aliens!” Arclight said.

“I was there too, but that’s okay,” Tinker said. “So, I just, you know, if someone can help me try to figure this out, Vanguard. I was hoping you might know something.”

“I’ve been running into a lot of dead ends lately, myself,” Vanguard said. “But … José.”

“What?” José said.

“Research antimatter,” Vanguard said.

“Okay, man,” José said.

“Is he, like, our secretary now?” Tinker asked.

“What?” José said. “No! I’m not a secretary, man!”

“He’s, like, our bad info guy,” Vanguard said.

“What!?!” José said. “My information is all good, man! What are you talking about?”

“I’m just playing with you, man, it’s all good,” Vanguard said.

José’s computer beeped and he pulled up something.

“Oh,” he said. “What the hell? Uh … I just got a tweet - private message, man. It’s for you, though.”

“Oh,” Vanguard said.

José looked nervous.

“Nobody follows my twitter account, man,” he said.

“Totally private I’m sure,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“No, the username is like 80 digits long,” José said. “Nobody can type the whole thing in. So people can’t … man!”

Vanguard looked at the short message, which read: “Vanguard, I’d like to talk to you very much.” It was signed simply “Agent Smith.”

“How did … wait. What!?!” José said. “Wait, there’s another one. ‘José, why did you use your own car when you chased UFOs?’ God damn it! They know where I am!”

“They were gonna find out eventually,” Tinker said.

“I gotta start burning stuff,” José said, leaving the room.

“So, tell me guys, what do you know about this Agent Smith?” Vanguard asked. “Since he keeps trying to contact me.”

“Seemed like a swell guy to me,” Arclight said.

Absolem’s Riddle asked about Edward and Protean noted he had not seen him when he went to retrieve his steel body in the sewers.

“That’s that smell,” Angelus said.

“That’s not that bad,” Doug said.

“Sure,” Angelus said.

“I can’t smell myself, so …” Protean said.

“What?” Doug said. “That would be awful.”

“You get used to it,” Protean said.

“I can’t imagine a life like that,” Doug said.

“Not being able to smell?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“You get used to it,” Protean said again.

“If you can smell so well, how do you walk around with that breath, Doug,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

Doug breathed to the floor and sniffed it.

“It’s not that bad,” he said. “I would eat something that smelled like that.”

“Yeah, cause you eat your own vomit!” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“It’s pre-chewed,” Doug said.

José came back over and shut down his twitter account. Angelus noted Agent Smith could have just come to the apartment.

“He might actually just want to talk,” she said.

“I don’t think he wants us to know what he wants to talk to Vanguard about,” Arclight said.

“That’s true but, you know I have a natural distrust of the government after the whole alien fiasco,” Vanguard said.

“Is it the government?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

She suggested if he wanted to meet, she could be nearby, very small, and teleport him right out at the first sign of trouble. He called Smith on his cell phone.

“Hello Vanguard,” the voice on the other end answered. “Thanks for calling.”

“Put it on speaker phone,” Arclight hissed at him.

Vanguard changed the phone to speaker and Arclight grabbed Doug and put his hand over the dog’s mouth. The dog fought him a little until he grabbed a box of Oaties and fed them to him. Then Doug contentedly munched away during the rest of the phone call.

“Are you still there?” Agent Smith said.

“How’d you know it was me?” Vanguard said.

“Of course I knew it was you,” Agent Smith said. “Who else would be calling this number? So, when can we get together and talk?”

“Where do you want to meet?” Vanguard asked.

“Iunno. Where do you want to meet? I’ll leave it up to you.”

“You’ll leave it up to me?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“How about the Burger Company?”

“Yeah, sure. When?”

“What’s good for you?”

“An hour?”

“An hour? Okay. See you in an hour.”

“All right.”

The phone went dead.

“So, what do you all think?” Vanguard said.

“He doesn’t sound very professional,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “‘Where do you want to meet?’ ‘Iunno.’ I’ve never heard that come from an agent.”

“He’s pretty nonchalant,” Angelus agreed.

Arclight thought they should be careful who they sent as they might be found out. Protean said he could scout from the astral plane and Tinker asked if the man had told him to come alone. Vanguard said he hadn’t. They discussed it and when Arclight asked if they thought he knew he was on speaker phone, they realized that he probably did. When someone switched from the regular speaker to speaker phone it was pretty obvious.

They decided to be nearby when Vanguard met with him.

“I could accompany you in spirit, in case things get heavy,” Protean said.

“What are you?” Arclight asked.

“I was just a man,” Protean said.

“What?” Arclight said.

“But now I’m something else,” Protean said.

“Very informative,” Angelus said.

“You like a ghost, man?” José asked.

“That’s the closest thing I could figure,” Protean said.

“So, you’re dead?” José asked.

“Uh … uh … maybe?” Protean said. “Last thing I remember, I was meditating in Tibet before waking up in Charlotte 20 years later.”

“Wait, 20 years later?” Vanguard said. “I’ve heard of astral projection but not astral time projection.”

“Well, I did experience the 20 years … painfully,” Protean said.

“Were you in Hell, man?” José asked.

“I thought I was,” Protean admitted. “But I must have just in the center of the Earth or some shit. But, in any case, I can freely jump from body to astral plane.”

Tinker asked José to find anything he could about antimatter. He also said he was going to leave the disintegrator rifle there. Vanguard asked if he was sure and then told José not to touch it. Tinker also told the man that if he touched the trigger, everything in the place would disintegrate. José said he didn’t want to touch it.

“That’s UFO stuff!” José said.

“I’m trusting you,” Tinker said.

“Once you touch ‘em, they get your DNA, man!” José said. “Then they imprint on you! There’s probably alien tech all over your hands, man.”

“I think the rifle is safe,” Vanguard said.

“Put it on top of the fridge!” José said. “And don’t drink that thing inside that says ‘Don’t drink this.’ It’s Arclight’s crap.”

Angelus, curious, went to the refrigerator and opened it up as Tinker put the rifle on top. She immediately spotted a strange-looking bottle filled with a glowing bluish-green liquid. It was about the size of a small coke bottle and stoppered with a cork. The whole thing was in a zip-lock plastic bag that someone had scribbled “Do Not Drink. Poison. Why did you put this in here Arclight?” upon.

“Don’t drink that!” Arclight said to her.

“I’m not drinking anything!” Angelus said.

“Good!” Arclight said.

Since the Burger Company was within walking distance, Absolem’s Riddle and Tinker headed over to the restaurant early. Angelus, meanwhile, went to the roof of the apartment complex and relaxed, soaking in the sun and watching the clouds.

Arclight and Doug headed down into the sewers to find Edward. They entered the sewers nearest to where he knew Edward lived and found his niche.

* * *

Edward woke to the sound of voices outside of his niche. His area consisted of a short, narrow tunnel about 10 feet long that ended in a slightly larger chamber that might have once been some kind of access for steam pipes, now long disused.

“Is this it?” the first voice said.

“Yeah, I think this is it,” the other voice said.

He reached over and picked up his laser rifle.

“It’s really dark,” the second voice said. “Let me see if I can light this up.”

That’s when Edward recognized Arclight’s voice.

“What are you doing here?” Edward called.

“Did you not get our beeps?” Arclight said.

“Oh, we woke him up,” Doug the Pug said.

“No, I saw them,” Edward said.

“Are you … are you coming?” Arclight asked.

“Edward!” Doug called. “It’s me!”

“Hey Doug!” Edward said.

“Hey!” Doug said.

“Hey!” Edward said.

“We could really use your help,” Arclight said. “We’re dealing with some shady individual. We might need your help.”

“All right but no media this time,” Edward said. “Don’t tell people I’m a crocodile.”

“I can’t control where the media goes!” Arclight said.

“You said there was a crocodile,” Edward said.

“They saw you!” Arclight said.

“Yeah, well …” Edward said.

“I mean, until they see you, you’re going to be known as the crocodile man,” Arclight said. “For all they know, you’re just a man in a crocodile suit.”

There was silence.

“So, you coming with us, man?” Arclight asked.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” Edward said.

“Well, we gotta fly there,” Arclight said. “You wanna hop on my back.”

“Sure, man,” Edward said.

“Well, we gotta drop Doug back off at José’s.”

“Why’d you bring him, then?”

“He wanted to see you!”

“Hey!” Doug said. “I wanted to see you!”

“Oh, okay,” Edward said.

Arclight asked Doug if he wanted to stay in the sewers or go back to José’s with Oaties. Doug opted to stay in the sewers and meet Edward’s friends.

“Let everyone know you’re a superhero now,” Arclight said to him.

“Sh!” Doug said. “My secret identity. I’m just plain old Doug the pug. Not Doug the Pug!”

Arclight said he’d be back to pick up the pug but Doug protested he knew where he lived and could find his way back.

“Okay, remember, look both ways before you cross the street,” Arclight said.

“Oh, I always do,” Doug said.

“You don’t!” Arclight said.

“Okay, I’ll be more careful,” Doug said hanging his head.

“Okay, I’ll be back,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Doug said.

“With food,” Arclight said.

“I like food,” Doug said.

Edward climbed onto Arclight’s back and they flew out of the sewers.

* * *

When Vanguard entered the Burger Company on West Morehead Street around 1 p.m., Arclight and Edward were on the roof of Carolina Lighting Systems, cattycorner to the building. Both of they were lying on the front of the taller building, where they could see in through the front windows of the restaurant. Protean had found a place behind the building behind Uptown Cycles across Grandin Road. Then he went astral and floated into the restaurant, invisible and intangible. Tinker, in his secret identity, was sitting at a nearby table while Absolem’s Riddle, also in civilian clothing, had a booth.

Tera was still on the roof of the apartment building nearby, sunning herself and not really paying attention.

Those outside saw a black SUV pull up out front. Three men got out, two in black suits and the last in a blue suit. They went into the restaurant.

Vanguard spotted the three men come in. They looked around and their eyes rolled right over him. The waitress then seated them at another table near the front window. The three watched the door and ordered lunch. Tinker recognized Agent Smith and also recognized the two men with him as two of the men who had been in Concord a couple weeks before.

* * *

“Why’d you bring me?” Edward asked Arclight when he saw the three men.

“He might be in trouble,” Arclight said. “We protect our own.”

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle sent a page to Vanguard: “They don’t recognize you. I’d leave and come back in costume.”

Vanguard had actually been thinking that and hadn’t ordered yet. He left the place, went around the building, powered up, and went back in. The hostess was taken aback at the man in the golden armor with spines sticking out of it when he entered the restaurant.

“He’s with us,” Agent Smith called.

He waved Vanguard over. As the hero approached, Agent Smith stood up and offered him his hand. Vanguard shook it. He could see that there was a bulge under his jacket.

“Just stand there,” Agent Smith said.

He walked around the man, looking him up and down.

“Very nice,” he said. “Very nice indeed.”

Then he sat down at the table and gestured for Vanguard to do the same, which he did.

“So, what’s your name?” Agent Smith asked.

“Vanguard,” Vanguard said.

“The real one,” Agent Smith said.

“The real one?” Vanguard asked.

“Your ‘secret identity,’” Agent Smith said, making air quotes.

“I don’t feel inclined to give you that yet.”

“Oh, that’s fine. So, Vanguard it is. You know what you’ve got there?”

“I just know that it’s some secret project called CANS.”

“CANS, yeah. Yeah. That belonged to us, you know.”

“And who is ‘us?’”

“It’s classified. I’m not allowed to say. Sorry.”

The waitress came up.

“Uh … can I get you something to eat or drink … sir?” she said to Vanguard.

“I’m good, thank you,” he said.

“Okay … I’ll bring you some water …” she scurried away.

“Yeah, what’s interesting is, if it belongs to you, the last person I saw that the stuff belonged to, they got killed while I was trying to help them out of the care, so …” Vanguard said.

“Yeah, did you ever think about that?” Agent Smith said.

“I don’t know if y’all are the good guys or the bad guys,” Vanguard said.

“Definitely the good guys,” Agent Smith said. “We’re definitely the good guys.”

In her booth, Absolem’s Riddle rolled her eyes.

“So, my Agency, we developed the suit from technology from another source we acquired 67 years ago and again 22 years ago,” Agent Smith said. “Most of the tech came from the more recent acquisition. Agency scientists modified pretty extensively. But you’re messing with something you don’t understand. And not even we understand everything they could do. It’s dangerous. And the people that my Agency acquired the tech from are also very, very dangerous. We were formed, my agency was formed to protect the United States from enemy incursions and we’ve been doing it for the last 67 years and we’ve been pretty successful. We’re not really interested in getting the suit back at this juncture because it would probably mean killing you.”

“Yeah, I was about to say, it’s the only thing that’s suppressing my condition,” Vanguard said.

“Your condition?” Agent Smith said. “What’s your condition?”

“I have cancer,” Vanguard said.

“Ah. Well, that’s not what I meant. The nanotech has connected itself to you now. I’m not sure if we could actually get it to de-connect without actually killing you. And we have no interest in harming an American citizen. You are an American citizen, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“And, so far as I know, you’ve broken no major laws, except, you know, property damage. But, you know, exotics.”

The other two men snickered lightly.

“My Agency was not formed to deal with exotics in any way, shape, or form,” Agent Smith went on. “So, I don’t have any interest in you particularly. However, you can help me. You’ve got my card, right?”

“Yes, I do,” Vanguard said.

“Great, great,” Agent Smith said. “If you learn of any other powers of the suit, if you could let us know, we’d be interested in knowing what they are. As a matter of fact, what powers have you used? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“So far, most of my abilities are sonar, but I have been able to integrate with electronics,” Vanguard said.

“All right. That’s excellent. Also, if you’d like to get rid of the suit, we could make every attempt to remove it from you, if you’d like to get a normal life back. But that’s up to you. You ever wonder about that car crash?”

“Yeah. I have wondered about that.”

“Yeah. Car was crumpled like paper on a residential street, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was.”

“You heard the crash, right?”

“Yes, I did. Heard it from my apartment.”

“Did you hear the car engine before you heard the crash?”

“I don’t think I heard the car engine. I just heard the crash and ran out to see what was going on.”

“Yeah. Was that crash like anything you’d ever heard before?”

“Not really.”

“How’d a car get so badly damaged if it was only doing about 35 miles an hour? Ever wonder about that.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah. Oh well.”

The waitress walked up and put down a glass of water in front of Vanguard.

“We’ll take a to-go bag,” Agent Smith said to her with a smile.

“Okay, thanks,” the waitress said nervously and scurried away.

“Look, one more thing,” Agent Smith said. “We assume that the original owners of the technology are still looking for what fell into our hands. They’re very dangerous and very powerful and if you run afoul of them and you want some help, we can try to help you. You got my number.”

He shrugged.

“I thought you said you weren’t equipped to handle exotics though,” Vanguard said. “How are you gonna help?”

“They’re not exotics,” Agent Smith said. “You’ve got my number.”

“I do,” Vanguard said.

“Good luck,” Agent Smith said. “Like I said, you might want to try to get rid of it. If you want to, let me know.”

He stood up as the waitress approached with a plastic bag with three Styrofoam containers within. The other two agents quickly finished their drinks and one of them took the bundle. Agent Smith gave him a nod and the three left the restaurant.

The waitress crept back.

“You sure there’s nothing I can get you sir?” she said quietly.

“Oh no,” he replied. “Oh no.”

She crept away.

He stood up and went into the restroom, went into the stall and powered down. Then he walked over and sat with Absolem’s Riddle. He waved Tinker over.

“What did you guys think?” he asked.

“It didn’t seem naughty,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“We should probably talk about this somewhere else,” Tinker said.

He left. The others followed him. Vanguard saw a kid run into the bathroom and them come out with his head hanging.

“Hey, the guys left. What happened?” a page came. “With love from Arclight. Arclight.”

“I guess meet back at the apartment, we’ll talk,” Vanguard paged through his nanotech.

* * *

They met at the apartment once again. Absolem’s Riddle teleported to the apartment and scared the hell out of José.

“Good thing you don’t walk around in your boxers, huh?” she said.

“No, I’m always fully dressed,” José said. “In case I have to leave in a split notice.”

“You shower with your clothes?” she said.

“They’re never very far away,” he said. “Give us some warning. Give us a phone call or something. I could have a lady over here. Okay, no, I probably couldn’t.”

They discussed what had happened. Protean told him the Agents didn’t seem tense or nervous.

Tinker said he wanted a sample of Vanguard’s nanotech and Vanguard found a Tupperware container. He told Tinker he could take a sample but warned him sometimes the suit reacted on its own when he was in danger. Tinker suggested he take the sample and Vanguard scraped off some skin and hair from his arm with a knife, putting it into the container and giving it to the other man. He asked José about antimatter and the man said he found several websites. Tinker gave him his email address and asked him to send the links there.

“Hey, hey,” José said, pointing to the disintegrator rifle on the refrigerator. “Don’t forget.”

“I know,” Tinker said. “I won’t leave that here. Not with you.”

“I don’t want it here!” José said. “I don’t want no DNA imprinted on me, man. I know how they work. All they need is something like this big.” He held his fingers very close together. “And they know where you are, man.”

“That’s cool,” Tinker said.

“It’s not!”

“You’re right. Sorry.”

Tinker got the disintegrator rifle and headed back to his apartment.

Vanguard told José Agent Smith said he wasn’t behind it, noting they might have to look into another agency. He said he wanted him to know. José again pointed out there were plenty of agencies: Men in Black, Majestic, Delta Green, R-Complex (though he noted that one might be made up as it was in a comic b