Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holiday Boomer

Some great photos of a great kid.  I can't be there for Christmas, but I know he's having a great time with his mom and grandparents.


Sitting in the cab of a fire truck.  Thanks Mike and Fireman Bob!
Complained it was too cold to go outside, but had a great time playing when he did.

Taking care of his stuffed animals, who are "sick" and tucked under the covers.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Haunted Lands [BOOKS]

The Haunted Lands trilogy of Forgotten Realms novels are set in the far east land of Thay, home of the famous Red Wizards.  I decided to start reading them because the Realms campaign I ran for a long time had a storyline that took the PCs to Thay, and I wanted it to be as "authentic" as possible.  The trilogy is pretty good--definitely dark, and probably more of a Warhammer 3K vibe then traditional heroic fantasy.  The storyline across the books has to do with a civil war in Thay launched by the archmade Szass Tam.  There's a major time jump in between books (10 years between books 1 and 2, 100 years between books 2 and 3!), which is a bit startling at first, but actually ends up well.  The books are definitely good at showing how Thay is an interesting and memorable nation, and I'd recommend them.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Civilization IV [GAMES]

I'm a huge fan of the Civilization series of strategy games.  I remember playing the first Civilization years ago, and, while a Ph.D. student, spent endless hours on Civilization III.  This year, I downloaded and played several games of Civilization IV (I know, I'm always years behind the current version).  There's definitely some interesting aspects to this one from previous versions.  Every nation has a religion (which can change) which influences interactions with other nations; I honestly didn't play enough to figure out, for the most part, how much this mattered or how to take advantage of it.  But an interesting idea.  Similarly, each nation has to choose a method of government (democracy, etc.) that again affects relations with other countries.  One of the little things that irked me was that they made artillery far less useful; rather than simply bombarding a nearby square, artillery now functions much more like normal units and thus can be put at risk while attacking--made things less interesting.  Anyway, I played until I got a victory over the AI on the normal difficulty level (where the player and the computer are on a level playing field).  I really like the game, but I'm too busy to play it regularly without another obvious stopping point.

Game 1
Start Date: February 1, 2014
Tokugawa of Japan
Difficulty: Settler
Random Settings: Small world, arid climate, medium sea level.
Started off in NE corner of only continent, with icecaps to my back.  Very defensible.  Spread quickly.  Bad war with America lost me a city, but then conquered England with tech advantage.  I then crushed Saladin, with infantry going up against macemen & longbows!  I then had tanks going up against Ghandi's catapults and longbows.
Victory:  Domination (Score: 7656) in 7 hours, 34 minutes.

Game 2
Start Date:  February, 2014
Montezuma of the Aztecs
Difficulty: Chieftan
Random Settings:  Large world, rocky climate, low sea level.
Looks like two large continents, divided by ocean.  Lots of jungle!  Was able to build a huge number of cities.  Finally went to war and conquered Spain quickly with large tech advantage.  Followed up with Germany, and then Egypt and England.  Conquered home continent just as won space race.
Victory:  Space Race (Score: 8168) in 15 hours, 15 minutes.

Game 3
Start Date: February 16, 2014
George Washington of U.S.
Difficulty: Warlord
Random Settings: Huge world, cold climate, low sea level.
Start on what looks like a moderate island.  Rome attacks after a little while, but I hold off and counterattack with war elephants!  They're weakest of 10 rivals, and I defeat to secure continent.  Go across channel and eliminate Spain.  Get lazy, and end up in real space race with Mali!
Victory: Space Race (Score: 4775) in 11 hours, 41 minutes.

Game 4
State Date: February 23, 2014
Brennus of the Celts
Difficulty: Noble
Random Settings: Duel
In a duel with the Zulus, and I just could not keep up with their military tech!  Should have been nicer early.  Retired when it became clear I wasn't going to complete, though I was probably able to get more points if stayed longer.  Frustrating, but a good lesson.
Defeat: Retired (Score: 3784) in 2 hours, 56 minutes.

Game 5
Start Date: March, 2014
Mansa Musa of Mali
Difficulty: Noble
Random Settings:  Large world, rocky climate, low sea level.
Just got off to a slow start, and as I was finally climbing the score ladder, attacked by multiple foes, often inexplicably.  Frustrating!
Loss: Retired (Score: 1725)

Game 6
Start Date: March 14, 2014
Saladin of Arabia
Difficulty: Noble
Random Settings:  Small world.
The five of us started on one small continent, and remained relatively stable territories until end of game.  I finally mastered diplomacy, but was outscored by huge amount by Napoleon.  I built the U.N., but was never close to enough votes to win.
Loss: Time Expiration (Score: 2661) in 6 hours, 10 minutes.

Game 7
Start Date: March 23, 2014
Cyrus of the Persians
Difficulty: Noble
Random Settings: Duel, temperate climate, high sea level.
Duel world against Isabella.  Did well, but just gradually got further and further behind in score because I couldn't keep up with population.  Hatched cheap trick to invade with two turns left, and narrowed the gap (but still lost 5991 to 5256).
Defeat: Time Expiration (Score: 5256) in 3 hours, 26 minutes.

Game 8
Start Date: March 26, 2014
Asoka of India
Difficulty: Noble
Random Settings: Small size
Several small continents.  Did well peacefully as India, but stuck about 100-200 points behind Ramses II with about 80 turns left.  Decided to gear up for war and invade Aztecs, and acquisition of several cities in final decades gave me enough points for win!
Victory: Time Expiration (Score: 4188) in 7 hours, 44 minutes.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 7 [RPG]

RECORDING ROD ACTIVATED

MASTER ENCRYPTLOCK ENGAGED

RUN TIME 265/12765 17:03

BEGIN VOICE RECORDING

We've made it to Hebia Prime.  Besides a brief stop so the others could find some batteries for their death batons, not much happened on the way over.  Hebia Prime is like many of the planets I've been to, except busier.  Its space stations have the same antiseptic corridors and repetitive public announcements that mark orbital life.

We all just returned from a panel, which was actually sorta fun.  But it made it even clearer to me how pervasive the Jedi are and how much of a monopoly they have on anything regarding the Force.

I really have no idea what I'm doing here.  The instructor schtick was a good way to keep me from being booted into Hutt Space, but I can't stand being a Jedi Groupie, taking notes while the others go about their business of saving the galaxy.  I'm glad I'm with Sian, of course, but my entire life can't revolve around her.  And I guess she's started to fit in pretty well with the others--I don't see her around as much now.

Everything keeps coming back to the fact that I still don't have anywhere else to go, and even if I did, I'd have no idea what to do when I got there.  I think I should be too young to be suffering from existential angst--but that's what I get for reading so much philosophy on the Triberry.

Still . . .  I do have some leverage left.  Maybe I should use it.  If nothing else, it'll make things more exciting.

END VOICE RECORDING

RUN TIME 265/1725 17:10

RECORDING ROD DEACTIVATED

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wrath of Ashardalon Adventure # 6: Campaign Against the Clans

An interesting concept in this adventure: a campaign of three-linked adventures.  The premise is that there are three clans that support Ashardalon (duergar, kobolds, and orcs) and that each clan must be defeated.  One of the three clan leaders will be randomly (and secretly) selected to be the end boss for an adventure, and when you've completed all three adventures in a row, you win the campaign.  However, if you lose against any of the leaders, you have to start the whole campaign over again.  The good news is you get to keep all of the treasure found from adventure to adventure, and use some gold to buy new stuff.

All of that being said, each adventure itself is pretty easy.  The clan leaders are more-or-less pushovers, with little in the way of offensive firepower or hit points (especially if the heroes are able to save their most powerful attacks until the end).  It's essentially a survive until you turn over the right tile adventure, which players should be pretty familiar with at this point.  Possible snags can be the number of monsters that turn up in the adjoining chambers, which does mean the clan leader should be killed as quickly as possible.

The description sometimes uses the term "adventure" as interchangeable with "campaign," which leads to some ambiguities.  For example, it's not clear whether the boon cards are usable once per adventure or once during the campaign, or whether the players get to keep the boon card for use in future adventures (otherwise, the boon card earned at the end of the campaign would be useless).

Next Adventure

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Fifteen [BUFFY]

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: FOUR YEARS AGO

Giles saw Michael run out of the room after Angel, but knew he wasn’t fast enough to catch up to the techno-slayer before he reached the hallway—he just had to hope that Angel had managed to escape and hide somewhere. Giles quickly stuffed his pockets with stakes and a cross, just in case more vampires happened to show up, and rushed towards the riddled door. As long as this Michael thinks I’m on his side, Angel and I have an advantage, he thought.

Just as he reached the double doors and pushed them open, everything went dark. The power is out an accident or? A generator somewhere distant kicked in, and the hallway was lit by the eerie glow of “Exit” signs and emergency lights. He heard muddled voices and a door slam somewhere in the distance. He thought about running for the exit, but decided against it. If Angel is still alive, he might need me.

Giles walked slowly along a hallway in the direction of the gymnasium. He cautiously stepped across an open area where two hallways intersected, when suddenly his face was illuminated by flashlights.

“There he is!” he heard a voice shout, and then the rumble of automatic weapons. Wooden projectiles began bouncing off the floor and walls all around him—it looked like the rifles lost much of their accuracy and power when fired at anything more than twenty or thirty feet away. Giles caught just a glimpse of his attackers and sprinted down the corridor—they were dressed exactly like Michael. He panicked and choose hallways at random.

Again, the darkness and silence pooled around him. Have I lost them—or are they still after me? And why are they firing at me anyway? Maybe they thought I was Angel. He realized that he must be near the cafeteria as he edged along carefully, his back to a row of lockers. He heard another door slam in the distance, and then a slow creaking noise quite nearby. One of the lockers! Giles realized, just before a hand covered his mouth from behind.

Giles, although a Watcher and not a Slayer, was still trained to defend himself. He thrust his elbow straight back, catching his attacker in the stomach, doubling him over. Giles turned and was about to bring his fists down on his assailant’s head when he realized who it was.

“Angel!” he whispered, perhaps too loudly. “Oh dear. I’m dreadfully sorry. I thought you were—“

“Never mind,” Angel croaked, still holding his stomach. “We can’t talk here. Follow me.” Angel limped along as he led Giles to a small closet he had found earlier in one of the classrooms, screened from the hallway by a bookshelf. It was dusty inside, obviously unused for quite some time.

“He’s still out there?” Angel whispered.

“Not just him—I think he’s part of a group. They’re all after you Angel, each equipped with those weapons.” Why doesn’t the Council equip a Slayer with such equipment? Giles wondered idly to himself. “But I think if we reach the cafeteria, which should be just around the corner, we can use the doors there to escape.”

“No,” Angel said. “I don’t think we can run. They’ll keep hounding me until they’ve caught me, and who knows how many people will be hurt along the way. I don’t know why they’re after me, and I don’t want to kill them, but I will if I have to.”

“The one in the library told me his name is Michael Tintsman. He thinks you killed his family several
months ago.”

“That’s absurd,” Angel said. “Listen.”

They heard a door slam, and then a few moments later another door slammed. The slamming was moving closer to them.

“He’s going from room to room, checking each one. He’s headed our way,” Angel said grimly. His neck was still sore from where the vampire had bitten him earlier, and his leg ached from where the dart had embedded itself in his calf. His body would heal these wounds faster than a human’s could, but they still hurt.

“We have to think of something. He and the others won’t stop until you’re dead,” Giles whispered. “But maybe . . . do you know where the science lab is?” he said, his face lit with inspiration.

* * *

Angel opened the door to the high school’s basement as quietly as he could. He remembered that it wasn’t that many months ago he had rescued Giles, Xander, and Willow from the boiler room when it was filling with toxic gases. He felt sorry for the kids attending Sunnydale High. Centered right on top of the Hellmouth itself, it seemed that pretty much anything that could go wrong did go wrong, and Sunnydale High students usually suffered the brunt of it.

Tonight, of course, he was entering the basement for a rather different purpose. Giles had told him that there were two main doors to the basement, one on the west side of the school and one on the east side. By entering the basement through the west door, and coming out the east door, he could traverse almost the entire length of the high school without setting foot on the floor above, and thus, presumably, avoid the vampire-hunters that were after him.

The plan seemed to be working out well. Angel crossed almost half of the basement without hearing the slightest thing. Even in the complete darkness, his eyes allowed him to make out shapes nearby, and so far he was the only thing moving.

As he drew closer to the far side, he could see the other door sitting at the top of a set of stairs. A very faint light shone through cracks in the door-frame. He reached the bottom stair just when the east door started to open. He rolled out of the way, and pressed his back against the side of the stairs. Looking up, he could see that two of the vampire-hunters were coming down the stairs, both armed like Giles had said. Something about one of them seemed familiar however. He certainly wasn’t Michael, but . . . then something clicked, and Angel realized it was one of the vampires he had fought just a few hours ago at the warehouse district.

Vampires teamed up with humans to hunt other vampires? It sounded strange to his ears, but then he realized that was exactly what he and Buffy did together on occasion. Still, he knew that these vampires were soulless creatures bent on murdering him. He wondered how it all fit together as bootsteps echoed through the small basement and the pair of hunters descended to the basement floor.

Angel considered trying to sneak up the stairs and out the door, but if they heard him, he would be cut down with nothing to shield him. Instead, he followed softly behind the pair as they advanced across the room in the direction of the west door, the one he had come in through.

He waited until one of the vampires stood directly in front of the other. Carefully edging himself to a position just a few feet from the rear vampire, he leapt on top of him, his left arm wrapping around the vampire’s neck while his right hand reached for the vampire’s hand holding the rifle. Angel squeezed the vampire’s neck and hand simultaneously, causing the vampire to jerk around and fire his rifle in a wide arc all across the room.

The other vampire, although lucky enough to avoid being shot in the heart by his companion’s rifle, was burned horribly when the impact from one of the projectiles shattered the small container holding his tank of holy water. He began writhed on the floor in agony, oblivious to what was happening around him.

Angel held on for dear life as the vampire bucked like a bronco, spinning around wildly in every direction trying to shake him off. He’s incredibly strong—stronger than I am! Angel realized. There weren’t many vampires that had been alive as long as he had been, or could match his strength. What Angel didn’t know was that the exoskeleton the vampire wore increased his already-formidable strength to even greater levels.

The rifle clattered to the floor when the vampire let go of it and reached up with both hands to grasp Angel’s shoulders. With a herculean tug, he flipped Angel over his back and sent him flying into the air, only to crash into and through the east door, which shattered like a pane of glass from the force of the impact. The vampire picked up his dropped weapon and advanced up the stairs, ignoring the moans of his companion. He reached the doorway and thrust the rifle out quickly to the left and then back to the right, but it was no use— Angel was gone.

* * *

Agony jolted through Angel’s bones with every step he took. He looked like a hunchback in the corridor, bent over and using the walls for support. He had heard something “pop” in his back when the vampire had thrown him through the door--combined with the wounds he had already suffered, he knew he couldn’t take much more punishment like that. I’m close to the lab though, he thought, just a little further. I have to get the timing just perfect though.

The door to the science lab was at the end of the hall, and Angel reached it just as Michael Tintsman emerged from another doorway nearby. Angel hesitated just a moment to make sure he had been seen, and then plunged through the doorway and into the lab. This better work, he thought.

Michael yanked the door open. He raised the rifle just as he saw Angel leap at Giles. Angel’s claws and fangs were out, his face contorted into the visage only vampires wore. Giles screamed out in fright and backpedaled behind a desk as Angel rushed towards him, saliva dripping from his fangs. Michael wanted to take a shot, but he couldn’t risk hitting the librarian—the wooden bullets would kill a human just as easy as they would a vampire. Even worse, he only had a few shots left and his supply of holy water was already exhausted. If the vampire caught him weaponless . . .

Giles screamed again as Angel grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and sunk his fangs into his neck. The librarian’s hands scrabbled for any weapon he could find on the desk, knocking beakers and containers off it in his panic. Finally his hands found a wooden ruler some student had left there. Giles adroitly snapped the end off on the edge of the desk and plunged it into Angel’s chest.

From the angle, it was difficult for Michael to see exactly what happened, but he knew the result when Angel gave out a bloodcurdling scream and then fell behind the desk as a thick burst of ash and dust flew up, covering Giles and the desk top.

Michael ran over and joined Giles behind the desk. The floor left a faint ash outline of a human figure. Giles was holding a hand to his neck as blood trickled through his fingers.

“You . . . you killed him!” Michael said shocked that a librarian could destroy the creature he had been hunting for months and which had escaped him twice.

“Yes. I ah, guess I did. What a vicious creature that Angel was. It was close, wasn’t it?” Giles said, his eyelids fluttering slightly from the loss of blood. “I suppose we should be leaving then, now that it’s finally all over. And I guess you can tell your ah, friends, that Angel is finally dead,” Giles said helpfully, as he and Michael walked towards the door.

“Friends?” Michael said when they emerged into the hallway.

Giles dropped to the ground instinctively and pulled Michael down with them, as more projectiles flew right over their heads. Giles had seen a band of the vampire-hunters out of the corner of his eyes coming from the left. He glanced quickly to the right, intending to run in that direction, before realizing it was blocked as well— several of Spike’s bunch of vampires were rushing towards them.

They were trapped between two armies. And Angel’s not around to help us anymore, Giles realized.

Next Chapter

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 50 [RPG]

[26 Kythorn 1372 continued]

After descending the shaft, the adventurers find themselves in a large room brightly lit by magical lanterns. The walls are lined with metal desks covered by gleaming tools and blades. Three large steel pedestals are in the room as well, each connected through strange, segmented tubes to large vats filled with liquid. Grooves in the floor lead from each pedestal to a metal grate in the center. Moving into the room, the adventurers can see that on one of the pedestals is a humanoid shape covered in a white sheet. Ralkin and Dolcetto carefully examine the vats and tubes, and Dolcetto surmises it may be part of a process to preserve corpses in a life-like state after death. Daisy volunteers to lift the sheet, and finds the corpse of a strange elf with black skin and white hair. Dolcetto laments the fact that no one in the group possesses a spell to speak with the dead.

Daisy moves closer to the grate, and notices something shiny in the dark red pool below. She removes the grate and reaches in to grab the sparkling item, but her hand burns from contact with the liquid. Suddenly, the pool seems to ripple and rise up, spreading out of the drain. A tentacle of the viscous liquid forms and tries to wrap itself around Daisy, but she leaps away just in time. Daisy slashes at the pool with her greataxe, only to discover she's caused the pool to split into separate masses! Further attacks split it even further, until there are four puddles, each lashing out with pseudopods! Syd channels divine energy and manifests a huge column of fire in the middle of the room, destroying three of the masses instantly! Seconds later, Dolcetto summons a monstrous centipede, and the creature is able to destroy the remaining threat. Undeterred, Daisy peers into the pool under the grate and, with Dolcetto's telekinetic ability, retrieves five small garnets and 2 small, incredibly sharp single-edged blades.

The adventurers continue into a corridor lined with intricate tapestries and tanned leather hides of various animals and humanoids. Dolcetto and Ralkin decide to search for secret rooms, and together unearth a hidden chamber. While Ralkin sets about figuring out how to open it, Dolcetto advances to the end of the corridor, where a wide aperture, barred by a portcullis, leads to another room. Here, T'Klack stands ready for battle. He invites Dolcetto to enter the arena, and says that she honours him by her presence. He wishes her a long and glorious death and moves towards the lever to raise the portcullis.

Before he can act, however, Dolcetto opens a conduit to another plane of existence and brings forth a fiendish centipede to fight in the arena on her behalf! Soon, more monsters appear to do her bidding, and T'Klack struggles to escape their attacks. He does kick the lever to open the portcullis and moves to engage Dolcetto in hand-to-hand combat, but before he can reach the archway, he finds one of the centipedes has wrapped itself around him! T'Klack seeks escape the only way he can, and starts to slowly fade from the Material Plane. Trying to press her advantage, Dolcetto enters the arena and taunts T'Klack for fleeing. He promises to return as soon as possible, but after he leaves, a strange bout of insanity comes over Dolcetto, and she begins to attack her own summoned creatures! Seeing Fargrim watching this in the adjacent corridor, she even challenges the dwarf to enter and fight, to which Fargrim replies "I will strike you down!"

Once T'Klack appears again, Dolcetto once again orders her creatures to fight him. The four-armed foe grabs hold of the loremaster and bites her, but she manages to fight off the effects of the burning venom that runs through her body. Finally, the other adventurers decide to intervene. Realizing that Dolcetto must be affected by a powerful magickal field, Syd succeeds in dispelling it and then transforms into a massive lion to rush into the fray along with Daisy and Fargrim. With swipes from his massive paws, Syd easily decapitates T'Klack. Dolcetto keeps fighting, however, even charging Syd with the rapier she took from Markus. The others manage to knock her unconscious without further injury.

Meanwhile, Ralkin and Myst survey the contents of the secret room. Dusty shelves hold various pieces of armor and weapons, all jet black. Myst takes these. A chest, almost the size of a footlocker, lays on the ground next to the shelves, and appears to be made out of a heavy black stone. When Ralkin opens the chest, he spots a spider-shaped amulet inside but palms it and declares that the chest is empty. He then walks back and hides it under the corpse of the dark-skinned elf in the previous room! The kenku is then forced to hide, however, as Garry enters the room and seems hungry.

When the adventurers have assembled, Ralkin pulls the amulet from under the corpse and says it must have been hidden there all along. He and Myst decide to search T'Klack's body for useful weapons and equipment. Fargrim and Daisy decide to make sure Dolcetto has no weapons on her in case she is still crazed when she awakens. Daisy innocently tells Myst that Dolcetto has equipment belonging to Gelkar, and an annoyed Myst removes all of Dolcetto's gear.

Next Recap

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 6 [RPG]

RECORDING ROD ACTIVATED

MASTER ENCRYPTLOCK ENGAGED

RUN TIME 250/12765 14:47

BEGIN VOICE RECORDING

Sian is here now, and to use a crusty old analogy, the past weeks have lost their substance like a dream (or nightmare?) loses its reality upon awakening.  I can hardly be around her without smiling like a little girl.  The Jedi Masters and the Rules and the Dark Side Spirits and the Intrigue all seem stuffy and somewhat silly when we're together.  I had forgotten how much I missed her.  Now she really is all I have left and I'm not going to lose her too.

Of course, what happened before is all-too-real and very serious.  The other day I was almost choked to death by Fremad.  I suppose you could say "we had a falling out."  I must give Carn credit, Fremad was as powerful as he said.  Yet I knew I could handle him, and I was right.  I can do anything when I put my mind to it, the Jedi will see that someday and ask me back.  The experience was not one I wish to repeat, of course--drawing him inside me felt--I don't know . . . dirty.  Still, I wish Fremad had not been a spirit so I could have seen his face when he realized I knew his weakness.  The others think he's destroyed, but I know he is not.  This is not over, but I am ready.

The others laugh because Bes has kicked me out of the Academy.  Will they still laugh when they find out I am now an Instructor?  I'll be researching and teaching philosophy and history.  Though I'm really only staying because Sian is here.  I mean, I like philosophy and history but I'm not passionate enough about it to do it for the rest of my life.  But it's not like I have many options here.

Bes said something about me and the Darkside and that's why I couldn't continue training.  What a joke!  Have I ever lied, stolen, killed, or intentionally harmed anyone for any reason?  And how quickly they forget!  I was the one who stopped the Sarama from sending a message from the Holoterminal.  When Orowisp was hurt and the others were standing around mumbling, I was the one who did what was necessary to get to the library and find out what the hell was going on.  When Carn was hurt, who did he call for help?  Me.  When Fremad was sending lightning bolts and hurling trees, who had the guts to do whatever it took to stop him?  I did.  Darkside indeed.  Trust me, if I had wanted to go over to their "darkside" they would know it.  (and who has ever heard of an evil pacifist?)  They'll see though--anything a Jedi can do, I will do better.  And when Master Bes begs me to take the Trials and become a Knight, I may just say "yes."

END VOICE RECORDING

RUN TIME 250/12765 15:03

RECORDING ROD DEACTIVATED

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 5 [RPG]

RECORDING ROD ACTIVATED

MASTER ENCRYPTLOCK ENGAGED

RUN TIME 248/12765 18:08

BEGIN VOICE RECORDING

Still in the West woods.  Donab told us that Carn had been captured by the Nosh Sarama.  The other initiates decided to go mount a "rescue."  I made the rather obvious point that anything able to capture a Jedi Master would take care of them rather quickly, but as usual, they didn't listen to me.  I decided to head back to the Academy, tell Master Bes everything, and be done with it.  I'm tired of keeping secrets.

On the way back though, the "Unseen," Fremad, spoke to me again.  I think he wanted me to keep going back to the Academy, but he reminded me that if I did, they would just rush into the Nosh Sarana lightsabers-a-blazing and soon there would be piles of skewered Sarama-steak all over the forest.  I realized that when it came down to it, the Nosh Sarama and I both had the same point of view: the Republic had screwed them over, and it was about time something should be done about it.

So I turned around and headed back to the Nosh Sarama village.  I figured the others would have charged in and been captured or killed by then, but I knew I could talk to the Nosh and see what was going on.

Lo & behold of course, as soon as I try to make contact with the Nosh to talk things over peacefully, I see the other initiates running and jumping around with ignited lightsabers as if this was a holo-vid of "Jedi Knight IV: The Unleashing."  To their credit, they had found Carn.  Of course, I could have gotten everyone out without sliced-and-diced Sarama.  But the others don't worry about things like that, and any chance of talking to the Nosh is over now that they think I was helping the others.

Carn finally told the others about Ishtar, which was good--cleared the air of a lot of things, and I can at least see a bit better now why he did some of the things he did.  Even as bad of shape as he was in though, I almost strangled him when he started spouting off about some stuff he should have known better about and that I won't go into here.  And in his grand style, as I turn to walk back to the Sarama village, he cries out in his most sincere: "Jizana, if you leave us now, you'll die.  Fremad is too powerful to face alone!"

Well, I kept walking, and here I am, safe and sound.  Once the Sarama awaken, I'll have a guide show me back to the Academy.  Fremad may like to talk, but I can handle him.

Actually, I think I hear the others approaching.  I'm sure this will be interesting.

END VOICE RECORDING

RUN TIME 248/12765 18:27

RECORDING ROD ACTIVATED

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adam-17 is a Learned Jack who Commands Mental Powers [RPG]

Several weeks ago, one of the players in our regular D&D campaign ran a one-shot using a relatively new RPG called Numenera.  The concept is that the game takes place on Earth millions of years in the future during a time where most technological know-how has been lost.  It's not post-apocalyptic like Gamma World, but an age of rediscovery and exploration.  The world is permeated with nanobots, and every PC has some sort of innate ability to control them to do certain things.  I'm not explaining it well, but suffice it to say it's an interesting and unique angle for a RPG.  Having downloaded the core rules, there's a lot I really like about the mechanics and approach of the game, including a few extremely clever concepts, and I could definitely imagine running something with it in the future.

The one-shot we played turned out to be the adventure "Seedship" from the back of the core book.  Our PCs started in the small village of Druissi and were asked to explore a strange structure in the ground that used to provide heat to the village but now was cold and leaking an orange ooze.  The players, not the PCs, know that the structure is really a half-buried starship.  After some fun exploration and dangerous shenanigans inside, everything went to hell and we had to run for it--but not before my character extracted several strange power-supply eggs for sell, not realizing that inside each egg was an alien consciousness that would eventually take control of anyone who possessed them!  Here's my PC:

Adam-17 is a Learned Jack who Commands Mental Powers

Tier: 1
Effort: 1
XP: 3

Might: 10 (edge: 0)
Speed: 10 (edge: 0)
Intellect: 19 (edge: 1)

Trained Skills: Genetics, Defense (Speed), Geography, History, Identification

Special Abilities:  Can use light & medium weapons, Trained in one skill of choice, Flex skill, Pierce, Skill with defense, Trained in 3 knowledge areas, Few Social Graces, Connection, Crystal, Mental Esoteries, Minor Effect Suggestions, Major Effect Suggestions, Telepathic

Cypers (Limit: 2):  Intellect Enhancement (adhesive patch applied on back of neck adds 1 to intellect Edge for 1 hour)

Oddity: Metallic hoop that sharpens any blade

Equipment: Explorer's Pack, Light Tools, Bedroll, Crystal embedded in forehead, Buzzer  (w/ 4 mags), Dagger, First Aid Kit, Book on Genetics, 41 Shins, Book on Repairing

Other: strange disk from ship; 6 power eggs from ship

Armor: none

Attacks:  Buzzer: reduced difficulty by 1, DMG: 2
Dagger: reduced difficulty by 1, DMG: 2

Discovered after a landtremor in a secret vault with 21 other infants in strange pods.  Locals adopted and sold the seemingly-perfect infants.  Adam-17 went to a rich family in an urban centre who flaunted his extreme intelligence despite not loving him.  Not an adult, Adam-17 has set out to find his only true kin: the 20 other pod children.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Buffy Comic Project: "The Death of Buffy, Part 3"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 45

(Dark Horse Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe (story), Cliff Richards (pencils), Joe Pimentel & Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  Between Seasons Five & Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Spike, Xander, Willow, Giles, Buffybot, Tara, Anya, Buffy, Dawn

Major Original Characters:  Trio of Demon Brothers, Coma (seller of magical items), Mr. Richardson (high school principal)

Summary:  The three demonic brothers of Doc talk with Willow about destroying a mysterious scroll in exchange for providing her with a resurrection spell.  They explain that they were sent to retrieve the scroll but when they read it, they realized it was too dangerous to exist.  Willow incinerates the scroll with her magic and walks away with a book containing a resurrection spell that is supposed to be reliable in the hands of a great practitioner who wields an urn of Osiris.  In the sewers below the city, however, a giant egg cracks once the scroll is destroyed and a massive elephant-sized bird of prey emerges.  Guardians flee and tell Coma that the bird, called the Luper, has hatched.  The Luper's first stop is the house of the three demonic brothers, and it kills them easily.  The next day, the Scoobies escort the Buffybot to a local mall to try to improve its social interaction.  There, they run into Principal Richardson who is suspicious.  That night, at the Bronze, Willow shares with her friends her view that it's time to bring Buffy back.  They react with dismay and anger, but decide to think about it.  Afterwards, Coma finds Willow on the street and tells her that the scroll she destroyed had a protection spell on it to unleash the Luper (the natural enemy of the demonic brothers) and that the Luper must be killed before it starts killing innocents in Sunnydale.  Willow tracks down and destroys the Luper.  Spike provides Coma with a rare ingredient (Malian twigs) that she can combine with Ezekiel's Bane to travel to Africa to complete her surgery.  Willow persuades Xander, Anya, and Tara to join with her in the ritual to resurrect Buffy, and it works.

Review

I love the concept of showing what happened in between Seasons Five and Six, and this story arc did help fill in some unexplained gaps.  This issue in particular, however, feels very rushed and I wonder if it was intended to be longer (there's a mention on the letters page that the creative team would be leaving after next issue).  The characterization and artwork are still pretty good, but the plot is rather shaky.  I still have no idea what was in the scroll that the demonic brothers were after, who sent them for it, why Coma was protecting it, etc.  Nor do I know what sort of surgery Coma plans to have (or why).  So all in all, a bit of a let down to an otherwise excellent idea.

Notes

* Willow's fight against the Luper is really oddly intercut with her talking to the Scoobies about bringing Buffy back, making for a confusing read--we don't even actually see her defeat the creature.

*I have to assume the writers were planning on building something with Principal Richardson, because his one-page scene is pretty weird.

*  The letters page contains a funny missive from a fan about Season Six's dalliance between Buffy and Spike, referring to the Slayer as a "necrowhore."

Next Issue

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Fourteen [BUFFY]

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE PRESENT

Although the rally wouldn’t start for a few more hours, by late afternoon hundreds of dedicated First Principles members had already arrived at Weatherly Park, determined to stake out the best places to watch. For the next hour, people slowly trickled into the park, but then suddenly it was if a dam had burst and hundreds and hundreds of people hurried to secure a place. By sundown almost four thousand people gathered before the stage, surrounded by tall speakers, electric lights, huge “First Principles” banners, and several crews from Sunnydale’s television and radio stations. Although far smaller in size than the crowds that assembled annually at other Sunnydale events—such as the Thanksgiving Day parade—First Principles was considered quite the phenomenon by most reporters, especially considering the organization was barely three weeks old.

Anticipation was in the air. Many in the crowd had already attended at least one First Principles meeting, but most of them had also brought a friend or a relative, and some had even brought their whole family. Non-First Principles people had found it hard to turn down something that promised patriotism and community, especially since the Fourth of July was just a few weeks away. Many of the reporters in the audience considered it remarkable that the crowd was in such high spirits considering how warm it was--Sunnydale was always warm in the summer, but today, as predicted, was the hottest day the town had suffered yet. On the outskirts of the crowd,
vendors set up stands charging exorbitant prices for bottled water, while other vendors sold hastily manufactured First Principles T-shirts. The vendors were in perhaps the best spirits of anyone—the organization had given them carte blanche when it came to merchandising, and had even taken the unprecedented step of refusing a cut of the profits. It was as if money simply didn’t matter to First Principles.

The crowd continued to swell. Dedicated First Principles members grew even more tense and excited as the beginning of the rally drew closer and closer. They walked around excitedly and often jumped up and down to get a better view of the empty stage. Energetic conversations regarding the importance of community, vigilance, and all of the other tenets of First Principles took place throughout the crowd. When the beginning of the rally was less than half an hour away, the crowd began chanting “First Principles! First Principles! First Principles” Slowly at first, but then faster and faster. Within minutes it was loud enough that several networks had to cut to commercials in the middle of their live broadcasts.

“Will, you sure picked a great day to make us stand in a crowd of several thousand people,” Xander said as beads of sweat rolled down his face. His shirt, half-unbuttoned and with rolled-up sleeves, was soaked with perspiration.

He looked over at her. She didn’t respond, but instead kept her attention focused raptly in the direction of the stage. He didn’t think she could actually see it, considering how many people stood between her and it, but she stared intently all the same. He kept a hand on her arm, both to make sure they weren’t accidentally separated and to keep any First Principles goons from snatching her away.

He shifted his weight and looked around, hoping the damn thing would get started already. He scanned the crowd and something nagged at the back of his mind. He looked around again, and then gently pulled Willow with him as he squeezed through the crowd and walked around for several minutes, eyeing everyone carefully. It was as he had thought: Every single person here is white. Sunnydale’s no Philadelphia, but it’s not Finland either. And not a single wheelchair or cane or seeing-eye dog—no disabled people. No gay couples holding hands. It’s like Mayberry, only Barney Fife’s about to get up on stage.

The crowd had been chanting loudly and rhythmically but hushed instantly when Wittingstone appeared on stage, dressed as always in his dark suit and pinstriped shirt. He was momentarily dazed by the spotlights, but quickly found his way to the microphone and adjusted it. Thank the gods this is the last time, he thought, looking out over the crowd. He glanced to the side and saw that Michelle was pouting—she was slated to introduce him, but Wittingstone had decided to go it alone. It doesn’t matter anymore. No more niceties or shaking hands with strangers or having to smile as idiots jabber on. Just one more speech—a very special speech—and I can go back to being myself. 

He looked out at the audience again and began to speak.

***

Castillo was nude. It was what the ritual required, and although his entire body was covered with deep scars that even a vampire could never fully heal, he felt no hesitation or embarrassment. He walked, with a slight limp, around the summoning circle and carefully checked for the slightest error. This was no mere spell of communication with other planes like he had cast before—this was to be a full-scale manifestation, and the ritual had to be carried out with precise attention to detail or serious problems could result. Still, the fact that he was a relative novice at magic did not dissuade him from undertaking the dangerous ritual. He’d come too far to stop now, when what he had been waiting four years for was finally within his grasp.

When he had checked the circle and was satisfied, he paused for a moment to look out over the city. He stood on the top of Kingman’s Bluff, a place of great mystical power in Sunnydale. He had been surprised to find that the hilltop had been damaged somehow, with trees uprooted and grass overturned. It hadn’t been like that when he had scouted it several months ago, but this would not disrupt what he was going to do.

With all of the lights coming from the busy city below, he couldn’t tell where Weatherly Park lay. But he knew the crowd would be assembled and that Wittingstone would be delivering the proper speech, as instructed. It was time to begin.

The ritual was long and complex. It included recitation of several difficult incantations, but Castillo had studied them carefully and did not stumble. One portion of the ritual required the fresh hands of young men. He removed these from their jars carefully but gleefully—he had handled their collection personally, disposing of troublemakers within First Principles at the same time. He interlaced the fingers of two of the severed hands—one from each man—and continued with the ritual.

The wind picked up as he completed the summoning spell. He stood back and waited patiently. Soon the wind grew stronger and stronger. The smallest speck of white appeared in the center of the circle. It was really there, however, not a representation or a blurred image as Castillo had communicated with before.

He watched as the speck slowly, very slowly, grew larger. A thin smile showed on his face as he
contemplated the enormity of what he had done. It worked—the barrier is weakened. Once the hatred comes— and enough of it will, if Wittingstone does not fail me again—Solasheyk will be strong enough to shatter the rest of the barrier. Of course, this little box had better do as promised or the frost demon will melt as soon as he arrives.

Castillo walked over to the wooden chest. It was sitting unceremoniously on the hilltop, several yards away from the summoning circle. Except for the runes carved carefully into it, it looked like little more than a child’s toybox. He bent down to examine it one final time. The Cask of Winters. The power to unleash the very essence of cold itself, to chase away one season and replace it with another. And everyone thought it was just another Norse myth. When will they learn that every myth is a forgotten fact? Perhaps when Sunnydale in summer becomes like Moscow in winter. When everything Buffy Summers loves is buried under a dozen feet of snow and trampled on by a demon from the netherworld. When I am finally satisfied and avenged.

He cast the spell of opening he had obtained from Anya days before. It was a simple incantation, and completed in seconds. The runes of the chest began to glow a bright white in the darkness. Castillo looked back to the summoning circle. The white speck had grown larger, pulsating slowly, and was now the size of a fist. He reached down and with a steady hand flipped the lid of the chest open.

He was blown back several feet as a mystical blast of cold and ice shot streamed forth from the chest and headed towards Sunnydale.

***

Dawn breathed a sigh of relief as she noticed that the oppressive heat was finally starting to dissipate thanks to the cool breeze that blew through town. She picked up her pace, feeling energized in the cooler air. It was still warm—but better.

“So I still don’t get what the big deal is about this guy. Vampire? Okay. You’ve slayed like a hundred thousand of them.”

Buffy shrugged. “I’m not sure why Spike’s freaked out either. I mean, I’m surprised Castillo’s back too— usually when I throw bad guys off cliffs, they stay down. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Castillo’s a powerful vamp, but nothing really special. I don’t really even remember that much about him. I think he was smart—like maybe he stayed awake in World Lit while I napped? But I can handle him.”

“You sure?”

“Yep. This time I’ll just plunge a stake in his chest before I throw him off a cliff.”

Dawn smiled as they hurried through the streets of Sunnydale. They had left Spike to his own devices back where the tunnel had collapsed and were now planning a quick stop at home to clean up before heading to the rally.

“Well, he has to have something up his sleeve,” Dawn observed as they turned on to Revello Drive. “I mean, organizing First Principles and all that—a lot of trouble just to have groupies.”

Buffy’s reply was cut off by the shriek. She turned and readied a weapon, only to see an hysterical woman rushing towards them, tears streaming down her face.

“Isn’t that your friend?” Buffy asked.

Ex-friend. Jamie.”

Dawn stood there with arms crossed but was almost knocked to the ground as Jamie crashed into her. The larger girl wrapped her arms around Dawn and sobbed. Dawn rolled her eyes at Buffy, who shrugged slightly but looked concerned. Buffy knew what Jamie had said about Willow, but she hated to see someone in such obvious distress.

Dawn was disgusted by the feeling of  Jamie’s tears running down her neck, and pushed the girl away. She wasn’t one to forgive easily, and as Buffy well knew, she could hold a grudge.

“What do you want?” Dawn snapped.

Jamie blubbered incomprehensibly but Buffy managed to pick out a few words.

“Who’s dead?” Buffy asked, suddenly becoming alarmed.

“He—he said he didn’t need me, but that the other’s had ca—caused trouble by drawing your att atten— attention!” Jamie sobbed.

“What others? Where?” Buffy demanded.

She pointed feebly towards a side street.

“We’re just a few blocks from the house,” Buffy said, looking at her sister. “Take her home and get her cleaned up. Call her mother maybe. I’ll check this out.”

“I don’t want to take her home--you know what she said about Willow and Tara. I hate her!”

“First Principles is messing with people’s minds, Dawn. Like it did yours. She probably didn’t really think all that stuff, but right now I don’t care. We can’t just leave her wandering around at night.”

Buffy strode quickly down the street, her senses alert and ready for action. It took several minutes for her to find what Jamie had spoken about. Two crumpled forms were on the ground in a narrow alleyway behind a row of houses. Buffy knew corpses when she saw them, and these two were definitely dead. She walked over to get a better look--it was difficult to make out details in the darkness. She checked their necks first and found the twin puncture marks she had expected. This one looks like that guy Dawn liked—Timothy. Not sure about the other one. She crouched down closer and then looked around. What happened to their hands?

***

“This is all about the whole Spike thing, isn’t it?” Anya asked indignantly. “So Xander sends the first pretty girl he can get his hands on to come here and show off that he’s found someone too. Well frankly, I don’t care. I’m over him, and I just don’t care.”

Anya held her chin high but couldn’t help noticing how pretty this girl really was. She regretted the fact that it had come to this, but she put a hand to the door and prepared to slam it in the girl’s face.

“Listen!” Amara said, jamming a foot into the doorway. “I’m not dating Xander. I swear. But I can’t seem to find him and I’ve been trying to tell him he’s in danger.”

“Danger?” Anya opened the door slightly.

“Yes. This guy I used to work for—Castillo—is back in town. He’s planning on unleashing this big winter demon thingie. But first he has to get enough people in town mad enough, because that’s where the demon gets its power. But as long as it has a human to channel through, the demon can use its power to influence people—getthem to hate each other, and make itself stronger.”

“Listen lady, I know demons okay? I am one. And this all sounds—“ Very possible actually. I remember being told the stories as a child. “Solasheyk the Frost Demon, also known as the Winter Wraith and the Norse Scourge?”

“I don’t know,” Amara replied impatiently. “But once Castillo makes it cool enough for it to fully manifest, and I’m sure he’s figured out a way, Sunnydale’s going to be flattened by the worst blizzards it has ever seen!”

“I don’t think Sunnydale has ever seen any blizzards,” Anya replied. “Though I’m not sure.”

Amara shook her head in frustration. “Just tell Xander, okay? I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back. Just let him know.”

“Why do you care so much,” Anya asked, narrowing her eyes.

“He’s a sweet kid,” she answered simply. “He made me laugh once, a long time ago. I owe him one. That’s all.”

***

Xander slipped the earplugs in just as Wittingstone began to speak. He had purchased an ample supply of them for construction work, but he had never been so grateful for them as he was now. Although he couldn’t hear what the speech was about, he didn’t see any reason to end up like Dawn or Willow, and prepared accordingly.

Willow and every single other person in the audience was listening carefully, however. No one was chatting away in the audience or thinking about what they were missing on television. They were all focused on Wittingstone, registering every word he spoke.

“One way or another, this is the last meeting of First Principles,” he announced, gathering their attention immediately. “Tonight will see either our greatest victory or the realization that it is too late for First Principles to triumph.” He paused momentarily while several in the audience shouted out “Greatest Victory!” “My friends—no, my community, we are on the cusp of something special tonight. We have a chance—or should I say it is our destiny—to make Sunnydale a First Principles community through-and-through.”

The crowd cheered wildly as Wittingstone worked to remember the next portion of the speech. He knew that Mr. Castillo would not be forgiving if he were to fail. Not that that’s likely, he thought. Nothing in the world exists for them now but me.

“Yes,” he continued. “The time for waiting, for talking, for contemplating is over. We’ve talked before about the importance of being proactive. Well tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I want each and every one of you to be proactive. In fact, I want you to consider yourself as soldiers, fighting a war to protect your community from those outsiders who even now surround our homes and threaten our way of life.” Wittingstone stopped briefly to allow the audience to boo and jeer “outsiders.” This lasted several minutes, and he could tell the crowd was becoming angrier and angrier.

Xander noticed this as well, and started edging Willow towards the edge of the crowd. He was surprised to see that she didn’t carry the same expression as the others, however. She just looked . . . defeated. He saw her lips move and realized she was trying to speak to him. He removed the ear plugs and put them in his shirt pocket.

“I said I’m tired. I’m ready to go home. It’s getting chilly. Why did you bring me here?” They were the first words Willow had spoken since they had left Xander’s house.

He looked at her carefully, confusion evident on his face. “I’ll get you out of here,” he shouted, unsure of whether her sudden change of heart was a good thing or a bad thing.

Wittingstone continued on as Xander and Willow pushed through the crowd. “Yes, warriors,” Wittingstone said. He noticed the breeze and knew Castillo had actually gone through with it. “Warriors are who you are. And the war is going on right now, between community and loneliness, between tradition and experimentation, between morality and degeneration. There is a war going on, right now, between First Principles and outsiders. These outsiders are dangerous—they don’t share what makes our community great. They envy us. And given a chance, they will tear us down. But there’s still time to win this war—if each of you begin to fight it right now!”

The crowd reacted to Wittingstone’s last words as if a bomb had gone off. They cursed “outsiders” at the top of their lungs and started reaching for anything that could double as a weapon—folding chairs, tree limbs, baseball bats. Seconds later the enraged crowd surged en masse towards the street. Wittingstone left the stage quickly and motioned for his driver. “Bring the car around. I’m finished here. We’ll wait things out in Los Angeles. Be quick about it!”

“Why aren’t we moving?” Willow asked. Xander held her close to him as they stood with their backs up against a tree. The crowd flowed around them, holding weapons aloft and scanning for “outsiders” everywhere.

“I’ve got two answers for that, Will. The first is that I’m glad you’re back to normal—at least considering everything that’s happened—and I want to make sure you’re okay. The second—well the second is that I think this crowd is going to riot, and I don’t want to be on the streets of Sunnydale when it starts. Anyone who’s not a believer in First Principles is going to be in trouble.”

“Where’s Buffy?” Willow asked dreamily. She rested her head on Xander’s shoulder.

“Somewhere on the streets of Sunnydale,” he replied.

Next Chapter

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Foolkiller (Ltd. 1990) [COMICS]

When I first got really big into comics, around 1986, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead issues were just coming out and I remember poring over each 64-page issue learning about all of the (usually violently) deceased characters in the Marvel Universe.  Reading and re-reading those issues gave me a warped introduction to the history of the MU, and a strange sense of appreciation and even false nostalgia for a lot of its forgotten little corners.  One of the characters I first came across in the Book of the Dead was a 1970s character, the Foolkiller.

There's truth in advertising with the Foolkiller: he kills people who are fools (or at least, people he thinks are fools).  Three people have worn the Foolkiller costume, and their definitions of fools have varied dramatically, creating room for the character to be seen as a deranged serial killer or a Punisher-like vigilante.  The first Foolkiller, Ross Everbest, was a religious zealot who "purified" those in the late 60s/early 70s counterculture; he only appeared in a couple of issues before getting killed.  The second Foolkiller, Greg Salinger, considered fools to be those who embraced crass commercialism, among other things.  After killing one supervillain and tussling with heroes on a few different occasions, Salinger was caught and sent to a prison for the criminally insane.  The 1990 Foolkiller limited series (10 parts) picks up a few years from this point and soon introduces the third, Kurt Gerhardt.

Issue # 1 opens with Greg Salinger in prison during a session with his psychologist.  Canny enough to tell the shrink what he wants to hear, Salinger gets permission to write letters to the outside.  He sends his very particular views to newspapers and talk shows for months until a right-wing t.v. talk show host named Moody (who's very much a G. Gordon Liddy type) responds and invites him on the show.  Meanwhile, a white collar type named Kurt Gerhardt alternates between bouts of anger and depression; his father was killed during a mugging, his wife leaves him after he loses his job and can't find work for months, and so forth.  He eventually hits a new low when the only job he can find is working at the Burger Shack, and when robbers come to hold up the place, Kurt tries to intervene to impress a friendly coworker (Linda Klein) and gets knocked out.  While he's at home recuperating from his injuries, he tunes in to the Moody show and sees Salinger ready to debut as a guest.  The first issue features no costumes and no fool-killing, but it works well at setting the stage for what follows in the rest of the series.  My favourite part though, is that awesome cover.

In Issue # 2, Moody's talk show features a retrospective on the Foolkiller persona: how the first Foolkiller, Ross Everbest, was a religious zealot soon killed by the Man-Thing, while the second Foolkiller (and present guest) Greg Salinger was quite different, a "poetic critic" of hedonism and all-encompassing capitalism.  "The fools got the world they wanted," Salinger says when he appears on the show.  After watching it, Gerhardt writes to Salinger in prison, and they begin to exchange letters.  Knowing that his letters could be monitored by his shrink, Salinger tricks the shrink into allowing him to use a prison computer to "keep a therapeutic diary" when what he's actually done is set up an online bulletin board in order to converse with Gerhardt through pseudonyms.  After months of correspondence, Salinger directs Gerhardt to a warehouse.  A woman named Merle Singer, part of her face thoroughly scarred, is waiting and gives Gerhardt a box.  Inside, of course, is the Foolkiller costume and disintegrating gun.  In a rather cliched scene, Kurt stumbles upon a robbery outside and uses the gun for the first time.  This issue is a good example of the series as a whole insofar as the interior artwork verges on the poor to mediocre line, but the scripts and overall plot is really good.  One thing the series misses is a good letter's page where the interesting themes raised by the series could be discussed (the letters' page for The Question, for example, were a hotbed of philosophical debate).

Issue # 3 shows the aftermath of Gerhardt's first killing--he's sickened by what he's done, but also a little bit thrilled by finally having fought back.  Gerhardt ends up donning the costume for the first time and hits the streets, disintegrating a random drug dealer, an attempted rapist, and a would-be robber on a subway in a scene that must have been intentionally reminiscent of the Bernhard Goetz affair.  Later, after witnessing a murder, Gerhardt trails a drug boss back to his penthouse suite and tries to kill him, only to have a bodyguard throw him out a window!

Badly hurt, Gerhardt manages to escape the drug dealers and call Merle for help in Issue # 4.  As she patches him up, she says she did the same thing for Salinger many times--he helped her deal with the old boyfriend who used sulfuric acid to scar her face.  Later, back at his apartment, Gerhardt slowly recovers from his injuries.  His coworker from the Burger Shack, Linda, shows up for brunch and brings him some cash so he can pay his electric bill.  She offers to teach him self-defense, and although Kurt has doubts about whether he should remain the Foolkiller, he goes through three rigorous months of a self-directed regimen of strength training, pain endurance, and so forth.  The issue ends with him tracking down a gang in Central Park that's been attacking cyclists; it sees the debut of his new costume--an open-neck leather shirt with a funky gold medallion and an S&M style leather mask!  Suffice it to say, I far prefer the classic costume.

"Brutal" and "over the top" are good ways to describe the opening scenes of Issue # 5 as Gerhardt kills the Central Park gang.  There's eyeball-popping (literally) disintegrations, a thug getting cut in half by the purification gun, etc.  If you don't mind a bit of gore, it's entertaining.  The appearance of the new Foolkiller in public creates a media sensation; the drug lord who had Gerhardt thrown out the window in Issue # 3 appears (his name is Backhand) speaking to the true drug kingpin in the city: Emilio Mendosa, a white-collar type.  Gerhardt sends Backhand a warning that he's coming for him, and in the meantime kills an HIV+ prostitute who wouldn't stay off the streets and then an abusive husband/dog murderer.  This issue is far more in the vigilante justice vein, with lots of ultra-violence and little reflection.  Much like the Punisher, you sometimes start rooting for him despite your better judgement.

Issue # 6 sees Gerhardt celebrating the fact that he's found a new job working for a credit reporting agency.  Things are starting to turn around for him, and his relationship with Linda is part of that.  He still corresponds with Salinger but starts settling into his new life when petty irritations start to mount; there are annoying co-workers at his new job, rude people on the streets, and so forth.  Gerhardt dons the costume and storms a crackhouse belonging to Backhand, disintegrating several addicts and (accidentally) Backhand's young son!  It's a well-written issue that I think plays into the "Angry White Male" narrative that was often circulating in the 1990s (Michael Douglas in Falling Down is a good example): the idea that society has become so alienating and grating that it wears a man down to the point where he has no choice but to give up or fight back.

In Issue # 7, Gerhardt realizes that his actions have consequences: he's tormented by having murdered a child.  He can't eat, he can't sleep, and verges on having a full mental breakdown.  He hits the streets again and interrupts a pimp beating a sex worker; when the woman defends her abuser, Gerhardt kills them both!  He resolves to look beyond the obvious fools and target the root of the problem: those in power.  It's pretty good, thought-provoking stuff.

Because you demanded it!  The obligatory Spider-Man appearance takes place in Issue # 8, which is shocking because normally he appears in Issue # 3 of a new series.  Even writer Steve Gerber must have just been humouring his bosses, because apart from a prominent position on the cover, Spider-Man only cameos in the book and doesn't even meet Foolkiller.  The issue begins with protests in D.C. over the Gulf War; when the protests turn violent, Peter Parker starts taking photographs.  Gerhardt, in his Foolkiller guise, starts zapping away, but by the time Parker can change into his costume, he's too late and Gerhardt has escaped.  Gerhardt uses his job at the credit agency to investigate Darren Waite, a developer who's been having tenants evicted to make way for yet another high-rise office tower.  While waiting for a chance to strike at Waite, Gerhardt murders a right-wing pro-war t.v. hack (a different one than Moody) and then lefty protesting war toys and action figures!  The issue finishes with Gerhardt offing a flag vendor who wouldn't give a mom a discount to buy a flag for her son.  Jeepers!

Issue # 9 ramps up the drama.  While surveilling one of Waite's properties, Gerhardt spots Backhand (who works with one of Waite's associates) and goes after him.  Backhand escapes, however, and Waite is alerted to the fact that the Foolkiller is coming after him.  He offers his minions $ 250,000 for the Foolkiller's head.  Nonetheless, Gerhardt still plans to take Waite down, knowing it'll be a suicide mission.  He sends a last message to Salinger and goes undercover as one of Waite's employees.  His chance comes and he assassinates Waite during a gun battle on a helicopter!  Somehow, Gerhardt survives the fall to a nearby rooftop.

A great opening scene in the series finale, Issue # 10.  For three weeks after the events in Issue # 9, right-wing talk show host Runyon Moody has been "killing" Foolkiller doubles and chastising the major for failing to apprehend Darren Waite's killer.  But when one of the doubles doesn't fall down when shot with a blank by Moody, Moody has just instants to realize the real one's in front of him!  Meanwhile, in prison, Salinger is ecstatic about how well his protege is operating, but his therapist discovers his trick with the model and bulletin board and is able to link Gerhardt with the Foolkiller.  Police start trying to find Gerhardt, who manages to avoid arrest while murdering some other fools and planning one last mission: he wants to go after Backhand and his boss, Emilio Mendosa.  Although Backhand (a pretty generic bad guy) escapes, Gerhardt has a fitting end in mind for Mendosa; he forces the man to dress up in the Foolkiller costume and run out the front door of a building surrounded by police; the cops, of course, shoot to kill.  Gerhardt reaches Merle's warehouse and has her splash acid on his face to conceal his identity and, when recovers, gets plastic surgery to have a whole new face.  It's a clever ending that leaves room for more while still offering a satisfying conclusion.

Foolkiller must be (seemingly) the only comic book series ever not collected into a trade paperback, and it's worth tracking down.  It has a good, suspenseful story, raises some interesting issues to think about, and provides a very different take on the classic vigilante idea.




Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 4 [RPG]

RECORDING ROD ACTIVATED

MASTER ENCRYPTLOCK ENGAGED

RUN TIME 247/12765 10:13

BEGIN VOICE RECORDING

Yesterday, my erstwhile barracks-mates bonded: Vasonja threatened me with an ignited lightsaber, Dornahan attempted to take control of my mind, and Ayden followed me around in the shadows and spied on me.  Apparently they have learned all-too well the lessons of the "Jedi."

We are in the west wood now, attempting to find Carn Sokol.  In this case, curiosity has obviously got the better part of my wisdom: after all, whatever battered and bloodied and tore at his mind would likely not have much trouble doing the same to us.  And with my luck, the other initiates will leap into the fray lightsabers-blazing and make things even worse.

Yesterday they slaughtered an entire "pack" of lizard-like Sibbets.  I could sense the anticipation they had to finally battle something, and feel the joy that welled-up inside them as they ignited their deathswords for the first time.

And these are the self-same who "are the guardians of peace in  the galaxy," "use the Force to defend, never to attack," and who "respect all life, whatever the form"?  Apparently Sibbets don't count--soon I expect we'll find that certain Sarama do not either.  It was a mistake to bring them along, one I will not make again.

They whine and complain like little children on an intersystem voyage.  They keep hectoring me to tell them everything: soon I will, and they will I had not.

END VOICE RECORDING

RUN TIME 247/17265 10:25

RECORDING ROD DEACTIVATED

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 49 [RPG]

[24 Kythorn 1372]

At a dock in Silverymoon, the kenku trapsmith Ralkin farewells Katanya and Flindle, the gnomes he escorted safely from Startop Mountain. As thanks, Katanya gifts him with two small gems that her brother had cut during their stay in the city. Katanya says that she and her brother have decided not to return to Mirabar but are planning on starting over in Waterdeep, and that Ralkin should look them up if he ever visits the city.

Passing through a wealthy part of Silverymoon on his way back to the Blind Dwarf Inn, Ralkin runs into a familiar face. Having just come from having her hair styled and dyed to subtly resemble flames, Mellia is surprised to see the kenku again after he left the group a couple of tendays ago. The two talk, and Mellia explains that the group plans to travel to Thay to rescue Cain, who has been, in her words, "misplaced." She tells Ralkin that the others have gone through a magical portal at the behest of Terrigo Multivar in order to buy passage for a future journey to Thay. Ralkin says he happens to be looking for work, and the two agree to meet the next morning to travel to Multivar's residence together. Later that day, Ralkin sells the gems given to him by Katanya to a funny little man who says his wife needs a new pair of shoes.

Late that night, inside the complex on the other side of the mirror-portal, Myst's ward against intrusion wakes everyone from their slumber. The four-armed master of the complex, T'Klack, has suddenly appeared in their midst, and reaches out to grasp Gelkar's corpse. T'Klack slowly starts to fade away, explaining that Gelkar died in battle and is entitled to the honour of becoming part of his trophy room. Myst reacts quickly, and his hand begins to glow with arcane energy. When he touches T'Klack, the being seems to grow somewhat confused. Fargrim and Daisy then work together to yank Gelkar's corpse out of T'Klack's hands just before the threat fades away.

Dolcetto says the group is going to have to be watchful of the bodies of their slain companions. Later, while she and Fargrim are on watch, Dolcetto announces her intention to reconnoitre the area. The dwarf refuses to let her go, however, saying that she's gotten herself into enough trouble already.

[25 Kythorn 1372]

At Wayward House, Mellia successfully casts a new spell that she has been developing for several days. The spell allows her to send a short message to someone she knows, regardless of distance, and it then allows a short response. She sends a message to Cain, telling him that the group is coming to rescue him and asks him to confirm his location. His reply is somewhat vague and ominous, but he confirms that he is indeed in Thay.

When Ralkin arrives, Mellia tells him that anything he can do to speed her companions' return from the mirror-portal would be appreciated. She gives him a note and two potions to give to the others. Ralkin is taken to meet Multivar, and the kenku queries the old wizard about the stolen amulet the others have been tasked to retrieve. Multivar seems evasive, but describes the amulet as being black and in the shape of a spider. With little further ado, Ralkin jumps through the mirror-portal at the appropriate time.

He appears in front of the complex, startled to find that an acidic rain is falling from the sky and sizzling against his feathers. Turning around, he's even more startled to see a massive two-legged monster with a long tail and huge teeth running towards him, followed closely by a halfling clad from topknot to toenails in scaly hide armor! Ralkin hastily pulls open one of the slats in the metallic doorway and leaps through, less concerned with what may be inside than with what is definitely outside. The halfling follows, and introduces himself as Syd, and the large beast, which he calls a megaraptor, as Garry. Syd says he doesn't know where he is, and asks Ralkin for help. The kenku is cautious, however, and instead begins to call out to see if any of his former companions are present by imitating Mellia's voice. As he does so, Garry gives a loud roar.

Hearing the roar in the room where they had been resting, Daisy rushes around the corner to see Syd and Garry. Daisy is as excited as a child at a Midwinter feast, and receives permission from Syd to pat Garry. Meanwhile, hearing what sounds like Mellia's voice, Fargrim and Dolcetto come around the corner to find Ralkin instead. Fargrim greets Ralkin and introduces him to Dolcetto as an excellent scout, but the sorceress and the trapsmith are not particularly friendly to one another. Soon, introductions are made all around. Syd's ability to converse telepathically is found to be particularly off-putting to Dolcetto. Syd explains that he was camping one night in the Evermoors when he awoke to find a strange, four-armed creature had bit him! Although the halfling tried to struggle, he found that his limbs would not respond. The next thing he knew, he was laying in front of the large, square metallic doorway that led into the complex. Hearing a nearby roar, Syd spotted a beast that he was able to calm and befriend, giving it the name Garry.

After Dolcetto explains the group's purpose in coming to the complex, Syd agrees to help them find the amulet in exchange for help in returning home. Dolcetto tries to enlist a similar commitment from Ralkin, but the kenku is busy examining the trigger for the razor-wire trap in the ceiling. An attempt to deactivate the trap goes awry, and Ralkin finds himself caught in the sharp net! Dolcetto says he should be left there a while to learn his lesson, but Fargrim cuts him loose. Ralkin carefully gathers together the razor-wire for future use.

Later, after Dolcetto has explained that the group was just in a terrible battle that claimed the lives of two companions, Syd displays the ability to cast healing magicks. Conversation turns to what Daisy calls the "invisible man" who guards the display room of weapons. Intrigued, Ralkin moves towards the door and realizes that he can converse with whatever is on the other side. Daisy happily chatters to it, and Dolcetto, perhaps reluctantly, agrees to leave it alone for the time being.

Even with some healing from Syd, the adventurers are still hurt and decide to rest another night. The bodies of Gelkar and Markus are rolled up inside sleeping bags and tents. Dolcetto works on writing a new spell in her book, while Daisy and Syd make music. Fargrim asks Myst about the unusual shovel with healing properties that Gelkar wielded; Daisy is able to hold it with no difficulties, but the dwarf finds it saps his strength. Myst, however, knows little about it. The sage is able to hypothesize, however, that the longsword taken from Iskenvar may host a rare and difficult-to-create enchantment that makes it usable only by those with orcish blood.

[26 Kythorn 1372]

In the morning, the group moves out in a marching order set by Dolcetto. She also gives the group instructions that if they are attacked by more large creatures like the flesh golems, they should fall back into a narrow corridor so only one of the constructs can advance at a time. When the group reaches the ghastly trophy room, Ralkin examines the lift mechanism and is convinced it must be trapped. He is lowered down on a rope and removes a gear from the assembly in the hopes that doing so will deactivate the trap. When the others try to activate the lift, however, it seems to be broken. Using a magical spool of rope that was in Gelkar's possession, Dolcetto arranges for everyone, including Garry with two corpses tied to his back, to reach the lower level of the complex safely.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Thirteen [BUFFY]

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: FOUR YEARS AGO

Everything was quiet—almost eerily quiet, as there were no crickets chirping, alarm clocks ticking, or police sirens blaring like there would be back in Sunnydale. Cordelia tried not to disturb the silence as she carefully and slowly rolled out of bed and dressed in jeans and a warm jacket. She walked to the door and lifted up the latch ever-so-slowly, glancing around to make sure no one was awake. She slipped out the door and closed it quietly behind her.

It really is beautiful she thought to herself. Without the light pollution of the city, the stars were brilliant and sparkling. Mountains in the distance loomed up large and imposing, while the snow nearby, illuminated only by the moon, stood out in a confusing mix of foreground and background.

She hurried across the snow towards the direction of one of the slopes, hoping she had timed her escape correctly and that he would be there to meet her. In truth, there was no need for her to have been so cautious— Cordelia was seventeen and it wasn’t as if she needed the others’ permission if she wanted to have a midnight rendezvous with Chad on the slopes. But sneaking out was so much more exciting and romantic that it simply seemed like the thing to do.

In actuality, however, she hadn’t escaped the cabin without being noticed. Xander had been awake the whole time, and had correctly surmised the purpose of her leaving. He hadn’t been able to sleep a wink that night, feeling restless while his thoughts dwelled on Amara. Although he knew intellectually that it was simply a crush, puppy love, an infatuation, it didn’t change the fact that he couldn’t help but think about her. She was everything he had been looking for, and surprisingly, she actually liked him too. And she’s not even embarrassed of me like Cordelia. He rolled over and arranged the blankets again, trying to get comfortable for again. A few minutes after Cordelia left, he gave up and started getting dressed. If she can go out in the middle of the night to meet her boyfriend, I can do the same thing. Though not with her boyfriend. Or my boyfriend. With a girl! Xander often bantered with himself like this in his head—most of his famous one-liners occurred when he decided to verbalize this internal monologue.

He also lifted the latch of the door slowly and passed through. He started walking in the direction of Amara’s cabin. He wasn’t expecting to see her, though he hoped he might. Instead, he thought that a brisk walk might tire him out enough to help him finally fall asleep. When he reached her cabin, he was disappointed but not surprised to see that the lights were out. I guess I could act like a stalker and try to wake her up anyway, he thought, but quickly rejected the idea. He still wanted to see her tomorrow and not scare her off.

Xander jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder—he had been so sure he had been alone outside, except for Cordelia and Chad, of course.

“It’s only me, silly,” said Amara. She was dressed just as he had seen her that morning, and looked ready to jump on a board and fling herself down the slopes at any minute.

“Amara! Hi,” Xander gave a nervous little laugh to relieve the tension he felt. “I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I would walk about a little.”

“And stare at my cabin?” she said with a grin.

“Exactly. One of my favorite hobbies really: standing outside of some girl’s house, staring at it for hours on end with a creepy look on my face. Explains why I’m so popular back in Sunnydale.”

“Doesn’t it though?” she said rhetorically. “Well, I’m up too. Come on then,” she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him away from the cabin. “We can go exploring.”

“Exploring?”

“Yeah. The lodge has been closed down for years. Who knows what’s in there? Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

Xander hesitated. “Amara, have you heard the stories about the resort being haunted? Poking around a strange place after midnight is sure to bring any ghosts right down on us.”

“You’re silly,” she said, smiling at the look of earnestness on his face. “Ghosts aren’t real. And if they are, you’ll be there to protect me, right? Besides—it’ll make the whole experience that much more fun.”

He still wasn’t exactly keen on the idea. The lodge looked strangely menacing in the moonlight, and he spent enough time back home walking into spooky places and encountering dangerous things. But this is not the Hellmouth, he reminded himself. And if she wants to go look around, why not?

They walked around the building a few times before finding that one of the boards covering a window at the side of the building was loose enough to pull off. With a solid pull, Xander also managed to wrench the window up, enabling them to peer inside. Even with the moonlight, it was so dark they couldn’t see anything but a small patch of the floor.

“Wait here,” Amara said, sprinting off into the night, only to return a few minutes later with a gas lantern in hand. “Isn’t this exciting?” she said. “I feel just like Nancy Drew in one of those old books.”

Xander had already been in enough “exciting” situations to last a lifetime, but he couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. In fact, his experiences made him feel like an old pro at this “skulking-about-spookyplaces- at midnight” game.

They climbed through the window and lit the lamp--it illuminated only an area about twenty or thirty feet away. They noticed that the floor was covered with a thick layer of dust, which they kicked up everytime they walked, causing it to swirl about them and be reflected in the lamplight. Around them, couches, chairs, and small tables were all covered with dingy white dust cloths.

“This must be the lobby,” Amara said. “See, there’s the bar.” She pointed at another object covered with a dust cloth. “And there’s the fireplace.”

Man, Chad would be pissed if he found us here, Xander thought, but then caught himself. Good. He can go crying to Cordelia all about it.

Amara grabbed his hand again and left it there this time. “And up there must be the guest rooms,” she said, pointing to a curved staircase, which led to a balcony overlooking the lobby. Doors must have led from the balcony to the guestrooms, but they were too far away to be seen with the lantern.

“So what’s on the agenda for tomorrow,” Xander said, becoming unnerved by the place. “More skiing—or breaking and entering? You know there’s this great restaurant we found down in the town and—“

“Oh Xander, didn’t I tell you?” she said, apologetically. “This is my last night here—I have to leave in the morning.” Her face looked odd in the lamp light—almost translucent.

“Ah,” he replied, obviously disappointed. “Well, we can still write, right? I am mighty with the pen,” he joked lamely.

“I . . . don’t think that’s a good idea. You how it always works out. It’s okay in the beginning, but then we start receiving letters from each other less and less often, until one of us simply never writes back and then . . . It’s better to just end it on what we had—a great day together, something memorable.”

“Of course, you’re right,” he said, trying to smile. The award-winning Xander jinx comes into play once again, he thought, but then resolved to try and make the best of it.

They started up the stairs slowly, still holding hands. Xander held the lantern with his other hand and shone it about every few steps. The lamp jiggled as they stepped on one stair that creaked loudly, just like in an old horror movie. They chuckled a little at their own hesitation and continued up the stairs to the balcony.

Suddenly, they heard that same stair creaking and realized that they weren’t alone.

Meanwhile, Cordelia and Chad were having a great time on the slopes, enjoying a midnight ski. Cordelia was still shaky, but Chad was there everytime to steady her. She was attracted to him, partially out of the belief that Chad was simply much more mature than boys her own age, including Xander. In fact, when she was away from Xander, she had difficulty remembering what it was she ever saw in him. It sure isn’t his taste in fashion, she realized, watching Chad ski quickly down the slope in front of her, showing off as if it were a slalom race.

She plunged her skipoles into the snow and pushed off, hoping to catch up to him and surprise him. He had turned by then though, and stood watching her as she wobbled in his direction.

“You’re learning fast,” he said admiringly when she finally reached him. “But it’s getting cold and we’ll have to walk back up since the lifts are turned off. You know, I have some hot cocoa in my cabin—we could warm up there.”

She smiled to herself at this obvious line. But still, hot cocoa and Chad didn’t sound like a bad combination. Even with the “Slayerettes” along, this trip isn’t turning out so bad after all, she thought, as they turned to begin trudging back up the slope. All of the girls in Sunnydale are going to be so jealous when I tell them about Chad.

They heard the loud whine of the snowmobile coming towards them before they saw it. Chad didn’t know what to think—he kept one locked up securely behind his cabin for maintenance of the resort and emergencies, but he was pretty sure no one else in the area had one. And besides, they weren’t allowed on the slopes.

The pair stood waiting expectantly as the snowmobile approached. Chad could see that it was his, but he didn’t recognize the two curious looking figures who were riding it. They were dressed completely inappropriately for the weather, as far as Chad was concerned, in not much more than jeans and leather vests or jackets with Tshirts underneath. As the snowmobile grew closer, they realized it was going fast and headed towards them.

And then they realized it wasn’t going to stop!

Chad panicked and stood there frozen, with his mouth gaping open, but Cordelia pulled him out of the way just in time. The pair of skiers fell on the snow, with Cordelia finding herself on her back, half buried in a soft spot, and Chad struggling to extract himself from Cordelia’s skis and poles.

He managed to reach his hands and knees just as the snowmobile came back for another pass.

“Duck!” Cordelia shouted, but it was too late. The man on the rear of the snowmobile thrust his hand out and grabbed Chad by the back of his jacket, and incredibly, held him aloft for several dozen feet before throwing him face down in the snow. The man on the back of the vehicle jumped off on top of Chad, while the driver turned the snowmobile around and headed back towards Cordelia. Still unable to get to her feet, she screamed as she realized the man planned to ram her with it! She screamed again when she realized from his face that he was a vampire.

From out of nowhere, a blur of pink and blue jumped towards the vehicle’s driver and tackled him, knocking him off of it and into the snow. The snowmobile careened wildly and then tipped over on its side, its tracks still moving in the air as its motor continued running.

“Buffy!” Cordelia shouted. She could hardly believe her eyes. Buffy was there rolling around in the snow with a vampire in nothing more than her pajamas.

“Now’s . . . not really a good time for conversation,” Buffy spat out, as she struggled to gain the upper hand on this vampire. He was on top of her now, trying to sink his fangs into her throat. He was incredibly strong, but she knew how to use her leverage. She kneed him in the stomach and then put both feet on his chest and kicked out, sending him sailing into the air only to land relatively softly in the snow near Cordelia.

Buffy jumped to her feet and sprinted after him, landing a solid kick to his jaw as he tried to stand up. With one quick motion, Buffy grabbed the top of one of Cordelia’s skis, still attached to the latter’s foot, and kicked it hard. It broke with a snap. Buffy held the broken piece and turned it away from her just as the vampire leapt on top of her. He disintegrated as they landed on the snow, covering her with a fine shower of dust and ash.

“Get it off me!” shouted Cordelia, trying to wipe scattered remnants of the dust off of herself. “And then go help Chad!”

Buffy ran over to where the other vampire was, but it was too late for Chad. The vampire got up and looked at Buffy, his teeth and lower jaw dripping with warm blood. The Slayer! he thought to himself, suddenly unsure—but it was too late to back off now. He deftly stepped to the side as Buffy charged him, and thrust his elbow out, hitting her with a glancing blow on the side of the head. She staggered slightly, but spun around and drove a fist into the small of his back and then executed a perfect jump side kick to the back of the head, knocking him into the snow. He rolled down the hill several feet, before slowly standing up and running for the snowmobile to escape.

Buffy pulled the same trick on one of Chad’s skis, arming herself with another makeshift stake before she headed down the slope after the vampire. She reached him just as he had started to push the snowmobile back on its wheels, which were still spinning. She aimed carefully with the stake, but he dodged at the last second and the stake slammed into the vehicle, splintering into useless pieces.

He backhanded her with a vicious swipe, but Buffy managed to roll with the blow. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do now though, unarmed. There simply weren’t many ways to kill a vampire—a stake through the heart, sunlight, holy water, decapitation. None of those are an option she realized as the vampire, seeing her vulnerability, changed its mind and decided to attack.

He grabbed her with both hands around her throat. She thrust her hands straight up between his, and broke his grip. She punched him quickly in the solar plexus with a solid right uppercut and then swung her left fist around, catching him the jaw. She saw the snowmobile still on its side, spinning ineffectually, and instantly devised a plan.

The next time he lunged for her, she clotheslined him with her forearm and simultaneously swept his legs out from under him. He landed on his back right in front of the snowmobile. With a powerful kick, Buffy tipped it over. As soon as its treads found traction, the snowmobile zoomed forward.

Ugh! thought Buffy as the vehicle crushed the vampire’s skull. I hope that counts in the decapitation category, she thought, because if it doesn’t that thing is going to be so disgusting to fight. As the snowmobile kept on running driverless down the slope, the small explosion of dust and ash from the vampire’s corpse told her that her fears were groundless. She ran over to Cordelia and helped her up.

“How did you know I was here?” Cordelia said, glad that Buffy had come but slightly disappointed that she hadn’t been as sneaky as she had thought.

“I heard the snowmobile motor and woke up and saw that you and Xander were gone. And then I just followed it.” With the stress of the combat over, Buffy finally realized how much she was freezing—she wasn’t even wearing shoes. “Chad’s dead. I’m sorry, Cordelia. But now we have to think about Xander have you seen him?”

“Huh? Xander?” Cordelia said, still trying to process Chad’s death. “No . . . I don’t know.”

They hurried back up the slope to their cabin, and Buffy hastily pulled on some warm clothes and boots while Cordelia locked the door securely and began piling firewood onto the fire.

“Hey Buffy?” Cordelia said.

“What?”

“Where’s Willow?”

Buffy looked around frantically. “She was here. I know she was. I told her not to go anywhere! We’ve got to go look for them.” She ran over to the bundles of firewood, trying to find anything that would suffice for a stake. If only I would have brought my Slayer bag . . . I thought that by leaving it, I was leaving the Hellmouth behind. It was stupid to think that I could ever escape the horror movie that has become my life simply by leaving Sunnydale.

Something heavy hit the door, causing its hinges to groan.

“They’re coming!” Cordelia shouted. “Buffy, they can’t come in here unless they’re invited, right?”

“I don’t know—we don’t really live here, we’re just visiting remember?” she said, as she began pushing one of the beds towards the door. The door splintered open before she could reinforce it—but she was ready. She picked up one of the makeshift stakes from the mantle where she had left it and flung it at the door just as a vampire stepped through. It disintegrated and Buffy readied for another. But all was quiet.

“Enough of that, Slayer,” she heard a voice call from outside. Buffy peeked out the windows and realized the cabin was surrounded by vampires. “We have something you might want,” the voice continued. Castillo was furious that two of his employees broke with the plan and had attacked the Slayer on the slopes. He had had this “Buffy” watched long enough to know that she was a match for any random attack—only a careful, orchestrated plan would defeat her.

After all, he hadn’t lured her all the way to Arctic Ridge with tickets she had “won” just to have his employees mess it up at the crucial moment. But his underlings had received a fitting punishment for their disobedience, he realized, and he could always adjust his plans to fit changing circumstances.

“Oh yeah, what’s that?” shouted Cordelia sarcastically. “A trip to Bermuda?”

Willow’s face suddenly appeared in the door, with a large hand on the back of her head. She didn’t look hurt, but she certainly looked scared. She was still wearing her pajamas and shivered from a combination of fright and the chill air.

“This,” said Castillo, in a voice as cold as the world outside.

Next Chapter