My daughter and I are working on a new book on a serial killing cold case. Imagine my surprise this week to learn that DC has another serial murderer. You would think this would have made more headlines than it did. A part of the reason you may not have heard about it is that the Washington DC police are downplaying it as much as possible.
In April of this year, the skeletal remains of three women were found in the Congress Heights neighborhood when construction workers enlarging a crawl space at an apartment building uncovered the first body. A search of the wooded area adjoining the house uncovered the remains of two other women buried in the same shallow grave.
The three victims, Jewel Marquita King, 48; Verdell Jefferson, 41; and Dorothy Jean Butts, 43 all showed signs of foul play. Ms. King and Ms. Butts had been shot, where Ms. Jefferson showd signs of being bludgeoned. All three disappeared from the same neighborhood where they were found at different times. Police did not disclose if bullets had been recovered, but it is a safe bet given the advanced stage of decomposition of the remains.
According to the Washington Post, Police Chief Newsham was open to the thought of a serial killer being responsible. “We would always consider that to be a potential in this case.” Really? While I commend the effort that the Metropolitan Police are putting into this case at this point in time, I think it s more than safe to say that we have a serial killer on the loose. These women all disappeared in 2006, not at once but over time. According to the FBI, a serial killer is someone who commits at least three murders over more than a month with an emotional cooling off period in between. Clearly these crimes are connected.
The Washington DC police have done a great job in using DNA to identify the victims. What has been glossed over is the fact that three women disappeared in the same neighborhood and no one connected the dots to see that they might be connected. This automatically puts the Metropolitian Police playing catch up with a killer that struck years ago. It does make on wonder, did the killer operate in other nearby neighborhoods and his other victims haven’t been found yet? What other murders are tied to these cases? What evidence has been gathered? How did the ball get dropped up to this point? What other community law enforcement agencies have been engaged in these cases?
DC and surrounding communities have a long history of unsolved murder sprees that qualify as serial killings. Look at the Suitland Slayings in the 1980’s where a number of victims were found in Suitland Maryland and their cases never resolved. There’s the Freeway Phantom case – and others.
These victims and these cases cannot be treated lightly or glossed over.
I started on this fantastic journey of writing BattleTech stuff, it began with the first technical readout. I had submitted The Strider Incident to FASA for Star Trek. They said “yes, but you need to check out BattleDroids!” I was hooked early on.
Prospective authors were given a bunch of photocopies of the artwork with handwritten notes about the stats. All of us were given the Rifleman first, as a test. I must have passed because I was asked to write a whole bunch more stuff.
A proviso to this list, it might be wrong. There are subtle little things I planted in my stuff over the years that allowed me to figure out what ‘Mechs I did (usually in the armaments I used). Well, over time, other authors used those too. As such, I had to do some of this for memory. Any errors are unintentional.
Tech Readout 3025
Phoenix Hawk LAM
J-27 Ordnance Transport
Note: We got the ‘Mechs with names and stats. The rest we just go stats, so we got to name them. The Chippewa was named after my college mascot. The Seydlitz was one of my favorite battle cruisers from WWI. There was some pushback on the Stuka, too German WWII related. In the end, it cleared edit.
Tech Readout 2750
The Personal Equipment (Yes, I came up with the grapple rod.)
Note: I am not sure about the Wyvern…I may have done it. With this Tech Readout, we got to a mix of design and working with FASA’s stats.
Don’t give me crap about the Hussar. I know it is universally hated, but I am proud of the design. It is a ‘Mech version of a Savannah Master. Fast, toilet paper for armor, annoying weaponry. Get this behind the enemy and wreck havoc. That was what it was designed to do.
Tech Readout 3055
Hollander (I think)
Watchman (I think)
The Huron Warrior was named for the old Eastern Michigan University mascot, which has since been changed. The War Dog has remained one of my favorite designs I did from scatch.
Note: True story. I got the request to design a few of these ‘Mechs, notably the Grand Titan, while on a business trip. I remember telling the line editor at FASA I didn’t have my books with me, so I would be designing them from memory. They were pinched for time and didn’t want to wait two weeks. “Don’t worry, we will crunch the numbers once we get the write-ups from you.” Yeah. That totally didn’t happen with the Grand Titan. I stopped designing ‘Mechs after the online outrage over my idiocy. That will change with my upcoming Wolf’s Dragoon novella, where I am tossing caution to the wind. It wasn’t worth dealing with the rabid fan community that had no patience for mistakes…they just wanted blood and FASA’s line at the time was, “The author clearly didn’t’ follow the rules.”
The Shadow Hawk art image and specs. Unseen my ass!
This documentary covers the legal ordeal of Michael Peterson in the murder of his wife, Kathleen. The case is portrayed as murky, highly questionable, with devious prosecutors that were out to get Peterson (why, we are never told.) Peterson’s trial, and eventual guilty plea for manslaughter, is one of the most publicized trials in North Carolina in the last few decades. It is presented as a rollercoaster of conspiracy, deception, and incompetence.
One must remember, this documentary comes in with a distinct agenda. It is a selective narrative aimed at glorifying a suspected killer at the expense of the true victim. Funding for this documentary was initially done by Michael Peterson. As such, it glosses over some key elements of Peterson, only offering a one-sided perspective of the trial. In some instances, it omits evidence presented in trial that further implicates Peterson in his wife’s death.
Conveniently left out of the series; Peterson’s wife had a 1.4 million dollar insurance policy – and that he had just told her that he had accumulated $145k in credit card debt. Further, Kathleen was concerned about losing her job. Peterson’s gravy train was over. The film misrepresented the evidence about the blow-poke weapon – and that Peterson had ordered three of them just prior to the murder. It skipped that the bloody footprint found on the victim was directly tied to Michael’s shoe. The series never explained how, when he called 911 he claimed she was still alive, but when EMS arrived, the blood was long dried and that she had died much earlier. The series neglected to mention that Michael deleted hundreds of files from his PC in an attempt to hide from investigators his financial motives for killing his wife (obstruction of justice.) After allegedly consuming two bottles of wine, Kathleen’s alcohol level was low enough for her to drive legally, implying that Michael’s story of drinking and falling was staged. Her fingerprints weren’t on the wine glass she allegedly used…but this too was omitted from the series.
As a true crime author I don’t accept what I see on TV as gospel. Just from some cursory research on my part, I was left wondering what the film got right. The show desperately tries to downplay the fact that Peterson was unfaithful and that he was bisexual and having affairs outside of his marriage – allowing Peterson to imply that his wife knew and was okay with his activities. I will tell you, a much of how Peterson characterized his affairs with other men demonstrated he was being at least somewhat deceptive (thank you Stephan Lampley for your session on To Catch a Liar at Crimecon!) While I’m not an expert, I was shocked at how Peterson initially lied (on camera) about the affair, then when caught, tried to whitewash it.
Much like the Making of a Murderer, Netflix has put out a documentary that only tells one perspective, designed to slant viewers perceptions of a tragedy. It is a show that starts with a premise and seeks to prove it, rather than tell the whole story. Lost in this one is the victim, Kathleen. Her sisters and one daughter seem concerned about learning the truth of what happened to her, but that is almost buried in 13 hours of slanted docudrama. We are supposed to believe that Michael is the victim in this Shakespearean tragedy.
In looking at the whole of the documentary, it seems that Peterson’s defense team dropped the ball a few times. Years later they argued that the evidence had not been stored right and couldn’t be tested for DNA. They could have done that at the time of his original trial, before the evidence storage issue, and didn’t. In fact, they personally mishandled that evidence during the trial. They could have put up experts to refute the investigator Duane Deaver who was (post-trial) proven to have manipulated outcomes of tests in another case. Note: Deaver never was proven to have perjured himself during Peterson’s trial. If his testimony was so damning, why not tear it apart during the trial? Instead what we are given in the series is a shadowy group of investigators out to get an innocent man.
As a sidebar, I find it disturbing on the number of people that are willing to believe that investigators and prosecutors are deliberately manipulating data to wrongfully prosecute innocent people. I have seen a lot of social media posts about other cases claiming vast conspiracies around various murders. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but it should not be our default setting that all investigators have some sort of mysterious agenda. While travesties of justice happen, they are the exception – not the rule. It strikes me odd that we are so willing to believe these tales.
I am not an expert, but I have seen a lot of crime scene photos as a researcher and author of true crime. I’ve seen more murder photos than a “normal” person. The number of injuries that she had and the blood splatters I saw in the images are worse than some stabbing victims I have seen. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to be create that amount of blood splatter on the walls with a fall down a flight of stairs. Add in multiple motives, and I think the prosecution was not persecuting Peterson, as portrayed in the show, but rather doing their job and pursuing justice.
Peterson shows little to no remorse over the fact that one of his daughters has been ostracized by the family for thinking that he was guilty. In many portions, this is a “woe is me,” show attempting to paint a murderer as a victim of a witch hunt by the authorities. In reality, Michael Peterson had a book deal all lined up on the presumption he would be found innocent. He was looking to profit from his wife’s death.
I had to force myself to the end of this series. It was so one-sided, it forced me to do some digging on my own into the case and what I found was that this series was a slanted and distorted piece of work at best. If you watch it, do some research on your own so you get the whole story – please.
As a sidebar, I found it interesting that the producers glossed over the son, Clayton Peterson’s “brush with the law,” where he planted a bomb on campus in an effort to steal equipment for making fake ID’s. Yeah, this is not your typical American family.
Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!
Bor…(A Song of Fire and Water)
That book was going to be trouble. Of course Althalus wanted it. In the Gallesian Fields he had found a demon’s skull and lost it in a barter with Lexa Lyoncroft. Now he possessed a polished ebony devil’s skull with silver tipped arrowheads stuck in it. A weathered tome called, “Demons and Devils – Summoning and Control,” in his hands was going to be a problem, for all of us. I kept my thoughts to myself though. If push came to shove, shoving was the thing I did best. He would not have it. Arius finally stuffed it in his backpack, ending the debate.
We stood at the edge of the ruins of Tempora. The mountain was hollowed out. A massive iron chandelier hung by chains and a tiny hole to the outside let in light. There were thick spiderwebs far up at the very peak of the mountain, above the broken chandelier. At one time the lighting device must have hit the mirrored crystals and illuminated the entire city. Now we stood in the darkness and debris. What city had been built on the inner walls of the mountain was now crumbled and rubble. The city at the base was a jumble of broken stones and the flotsam of everyday life. Navigating such ground was going to be difficult.
We knew from the poem that the river flowing between the feet of the statue was where we had to go, but such a vast space of ruin demanded exploration. We opted to go around the long way, along the perimeter of the floor of the hollowed mountain, just to make sure there was nothing that would show up behind us at some point. It was hard going. Each pile of wreckage required exertion, coordination, and left your ankles sore from the task. We had to backtrack a half dozen times, finding our path blocked with walls and rubble. For hours we climbed and crawled. We did find a set of rooms in the wall of the mountain, but all that was there was smashed furniture, musty tapestries that were more rotted fragments than something of interest. Whatever had destroyed Tempora had done so with a viciousness than I could imagine. We found a rotted leather pouch with a handful of silver coins…hardly worth the effort.
“At least there is no sign of anyone being here,” Theren said.
My eyes went upward to the chandelier hundreds of heads over us. It had hung on five massive iron chains, now it hung on one. It must have been beautiful to see at one time, but now it was something that could fall on us at any moment.
We trudged on. What we found were shattered bones, dwarven in origin. Several hours later we found a small flat area in the rubble, perhaps a wall at one point, now laid flat. As we moved I started to get a sense of foreboding…as if something was about to happen to us. I took point, crawling up over a rise in the rubble, only to see a giant spider, white and gray hair and a shimmering blue mark on its chest. I was caught unprepared by the creature. It sprung at me with a stunning bite, ripping into my forearm, punctuating the armor. My arm felt limp and blood splattered the white hair on the creature as well as my neck and face. The pain followed a moment later – hot, searing.
Suddenly, there was a whooshing sound, like a wind blowing. My eyesight blurred. I had a moment of disorientation. Then my vision cleared and I was in a massive hammock-like spider nest, swaying in the air. I caught a glimpse down through a small hole and saw that I was 500 heads above the rubble where I had been standing. Somehow the creature had teleported me to its nest, a hammock-like creation, presumably to kill and eat me. The pain was even more searing in my arm, no doubt from its poison.
You won’t be eating me, not today…
I swung Skullringer and hit it hard in the confined space, sending the beast flying. On the backswing, I missed, but it was enough to make the creature scurry a few steps back. The massive spider coiled and sprung at me. I pivoted slightly and the creature leapt through a hole in the webbed nest that I stood on. It plummeted downward, past the rusted iron chandelier to the rocks far below.
My breath was ragged and I could smell the rot of long-dead flesh in the nest mixed with a stink I had never smelled before. How was I going to get down from here? The shimmering blue light of Skullringer showed me that there were many stripped bones of the victims of these creatures. From the size of the nest, I could tell there were more than the one creature I had seen. I found a small cache of rubies and diamonds in the webbing, no doubt lost by some explorer that had become prey. I tucked them in my backpack.
I found a ring as well, silver, with ornate carving. Pulling it from the sticky webbing, I saw two dwarven words: “Stalker” and “Bentormon.” I put it on and spoke the word I did not know, “Bentormon.” For a moment there was a ripple, like summer heat rising off of a stone. Something was different, but I could not tell for sure what it was. I jumped up and down, hoping it was a ring of flight, but all that did was make the unsteady nest sway slightly. Whatever the effect of the ring, I couldn’t discern it. I turned my attention to my predicament and the possible plummet I could be facing. Below, I could see the green glow of the ranger’s lantern as they moved out into the center of the mountain directly under me.
There was a commotion near the party, that much I could make out. Suddenly next to me another spider winked into existence, clamped onto Althalus. I swung Skullringer at it, hitting it hard, and the hulking spider hissed at me. It tossed aside the unconscious warlock and its many eyes seemed to drift over me. I swung again, crushing its face and splattering the warlock with bits of it. I wiped Skullringer off on the nest and Althalus stirred to a stunned expression. “Where am I?”
“In a worse place than you were,” I replied.
“Oh shit,” he replied, moving pulling his hands from the sticky nest we were in. The slight sway of the nest made us both feel uneasy.
“I could use my eldritch blasts…” he offered.
“That…” I said slowly, “would be a horrible idea.”
“I have that wand with me, the one that shoots lightning,” he offered wryly.
“Not funny. That isn’t helping.” I asked him to watch me as I uttered, “bentormmon.” This time nothing happened to me, I did not see the ripple effect. “Do you notice anything different?”
“Should I?” Getting a straight answer out of this warlock was difficult at best. I was about to beret him when suddenly another spider blinked in next to us, bringing with it, Dimitrious. The nest seemed to sag under the weight of the two appearing.
I didn’t hesitate, I attacked! Skullringer was an azure blur as I struck it hard, throwing it back to the far end of the nest. The warlock unleashed an eldritch blast on the spider, tossing it hard back, causing the nest to rock harder than ever before. That warlock was going to kill us both if he was not careful. The spider blinked out of existence, leaving me to glare at Althalus. “Be careful. This nest is likely flammable.”
“I was careful,” he countered.
“These blink spiders are dangerous,” I said, surveying the nest as it swayed.
Suddenly, a bear appeared grappled with one of the spiders. “Grab me!” he commanded in a low growl. I recognize that bear….Theren! I lunged for it, as did Dimitrious and Althalus. There was flash around us and a whistle of air, and we landed on the debris on the floor far below the nest. Before it could teleport us again, the bear crushed the spider’s skull in its massive claws.
I looked up at the nest. I thanked God we blinked down, otherwise the way down could have left us dead. I then turned to the druid. “Thank you Theren,” I told him. The bear dipped its head. The rest of our party came over and joined us. Brandon cut the poison sac out of the creature and drained it into an empty glass vial that Althalus offered him. For a few minutes, we rested. I cleaned my trusty warhammer off. This quest was exhausting, and we seemed no closer to finding the missing paladins. I suppressed the thought that we might never find them.
We set off for the interior wall of the hollowed mountain. I led us through the debris. Near the wall I spotted some bleached bones poking up out of the rubble. I found a necklace there with a sapphire. I found a morning star as well, silvered, well-balanced – a true warrior’s weapon. There was a short sword in a battered scabbard in the rubble too. There was a fine silvered edge to the weapon. Brandon looked at it but said he could not make out the words. “Let me,” I offered.
As I suspected, it was dwarven. “Nightstalker,” I said out loud. “Never heard of it,” I said handing it back to the ranger. “It is a fine blade, that much I can say.”
“Nightstalker…” Althalus said. “I’ve actually heard of that blade.” We all looked at him. “Don’t be surprised, I do a lot of studying. “It was a magical blade owned by Shevrus Salamar, a dwarven lord who served with some distinction in the battle of the Gallesian Fields. It was said that he was the great killer of the shambling dead, wielding Nightstalker and his holy morning star, Bonebreaker. He killed the last Wight-King Ishmark and was one of the men that laid the cornerstone of the sept at the Great Gash. No one knows of his fate. I wonder how his weapons ended up here?” It was a question none of us would likely ever know.
“I did not care for a short sword – I prefer to keep my foes at a distance. That morning star, Bonebreaker, that was something I might need. “I will take this Bonebreaker,” I offered. “Do what you will with that blade.” The ranger took it, proudly strapping the scabbard at his side.
We made our way to the waterfall…the tears of Tempora. We saw along the waterfall, a series of carved handholds, like a ladder of some sort, ending to a ledge some 30 heads down. The roar of the water churning below as the river flowed through a carved hole leading out of the city.
I went first. Only two steps down my feet slipped and I lost my grip. I fell backwards, watching my comrades above me. I hit the water hard and went deep under, the weight of my armor and the treasure I carried took me straight to the black bottom under the falls. I could see nothing and I tried to push off, only to sink right back down. My ears filled with a rushing gurgling and the cold water made me quake.
I struggled to get my pack off and I lost my footing. The force of the water from the falls made me feel like I was battling some creature. It was nearly impossible to see. I felt hands on me and saw Dimitrious grapple me and start to pull me up. I kicked hard and felt a gulp of the cold water in my throat. I reached the surface and spat out the water and got a gulp of air. Theren was there – in bear form. As I started to bob down, I grabbed his fur and held on tight, pulling myself up. Theren paddled to the ledge and helped me out of the water.
Looking over to the silent monk, I offered my thanks. He only nodded in response. The others climbed down and joined us. The ledge allowed us to move behind the waterfall, There was a chamber jutting into the underbelly of the ruins of Tempora. I wrung out my personal goods, which did little to lighten my backpack, and I led us into the depths.
We moved down a long and wide hallway. The octagonal-shaped room beyond was clearly some sort royal receiving room in centuries past. It had a mosaic floor with three large rugs in it. The ceiling, carved into the stone itself, was nearly twenty-heads high. There mosaics, now cracked and missing pieces, that showed what Tempora may have looked like in its prime. It was odd to see it has it had been. Now it was nothing but carnage, blinking spiders, and gloom.
A raised dais of stone sat in the middle of the room, with a throne-like seat on it. The back of the throne was broken off, blasted back and shattered to pieces beyond where it had once stood. On the seat was a haphazardly tossed piece of purple cloth which was a dusty lump.
I poked at the rugs with my wet boot. The rugs seemed to cover scorch marks on the floor, burned through the mosaic. This was not natural, but powerful magic.
“We need to proceed carefully,” Theren said. Usually it was Althalus that old us the obvious. I wondered if Theren was taken a verbal jab at the warlock.
As Brandon started moving into the room, we saw the hilt of his new sword, Nightstalker, started glowing white. We spotted it before he did. He pulled it out and the blade shimmered brilliantly.
“That cannot be good,” Althalus said.
“I think it’s cool,” the ranger replied.
I moved forward near Brandon who was approaching the battered throne. “Hold,” said Arius. He closed his eyes for a moment and waved his hands in the air before his face. I felt warm for the first time since my plunge into the waterfall. “It is shield of faith,” the paladin said. “It will protect us.”
I checked Bonebreaker at my belt, but it did not show any signs of glowing. Brandon, against my better thinking, flipped up the purple cloth on the seat. What emerged was a glowing green skull that floated into the air. Magical greenish orange flames shimmered around it and its jaw opened with a sinister grin. The eye sockets glowed a deep red. It felt as if it were staring into my soul.
“Holy shit,” the ranger said, staggering back.
Flames shot forth from the eyes of the skull, concentrated on Brandon. They missed, passing his shoulders. He tried to swing Nightstalker at the floating skull but missed. I sprang at it with Skullringer, hitting it hard. The emerald flames lapped around the head of my warhammer and I moved it back a head or two, but it was far from stopped.
Suddenly the air around us erupted in flames. My beard was burned singed by the magical blast. Brandon was caught in the center of the sphere of flames. He fled the chamber, setting fire to one of the rugs in the process, heading off towards the waterfall, flames lapping up his sides and back as he wailed in agony.
I hit the skull hard again with Skullringer, but it kept moving forward. Athalus hit it with his own magical blast, knocking it back nearly ten heads, but only seeming to infuriate it. Theren, still in bear form, rushed forward, clawing at it. It fractured into pieces, rattling across the mosaic floor. The eerie green flames extinguished, making us shift to the other source of light – Brandon.
He rushed for the waterfall, arms flailing about madly. He jumped into the water to extinguish the flames and disappeared from sight.
“Did he just jump into the waterfall wearing his armor?” Theren asked.
“Yes,” Althalus replied. “Yes he did.”
We rushed to the waterfall’s edge and saw him under the water attempting to dog-paddle up to the surface – to no avail. I alone knew that feeling, having just gotten out of that predicament myself. Theren (the bear) jumped in with Dimitrious and helped fish him out. The ranger was coughing up water, his hair badly burned, but thankful to be alive.
We returned to the receiving chamber. Brandon checked the throne and found a small compartment in the seat. There was a small strange stone object, the length of a finger, with box-like shapes. It proved to be a key of some sort, ornate, clearly dwarven. There was an amethyst broch in the compartment as well. I let him carry it. I was starting to feel like a mule, carrying all of our wealth.
Arius checked the room for any sort of a door or way out. It seemed odd that we had come this far to arrive at a dead-end. He and Dimitrious found a small hole that seemed to fit the key. Theren shifted back to his human form and looked at the hole. “We should hold up here, get some rest, recover if we can.” It seemed like a good idea. We went to one of the corners far from the throne and huddled together. At least we were flanked by stone on two side.
We laid down for some sleep. I was on my first watch. As everyone drifted off an hour or two later I heard a clicking sound over by the throne. At first, I thought that it was little more than a rat or some bug. I rose and moved towards the throne. To my disbelief, the shattered bits of the flaming skull were twitching, moving towards each other, and reassembling!
I let loose a whistle of warning followed by, “Get up, that thing is regenerating!” I moved towards it quickly, unhooking Skullringer. We killed you once, we will do it again!
It turned from me and towards the rest of our group, all huddled close together, and opened its mouth. A ball of fire emerged from the mouth, growing, expanding. As it passed me I could feel the searing heat and the gust of wind that slowed my run.
I didn’t hear the fireball hit, but I heard the wails of pain and agony from my comrades as a result and the room lit up brilliant yellow and orange behind me as I charged the green flaming monstrosity that floated in the air before me.
Skullringer swung true, knocking the creature back into one of the corners of the room, chipping off a bit of its lower skull. I pursued the heinous demon-spawn, drawing the warhammer back. Someone behind me cast some sort of magic, and it seemed to make the skull quake in the air, as if it could feel pain. Dimitrious joined me, his arms a blur of attacks on the green fiery skull. The monk seemed to ignore the flames, hitting it hard on either side. His last blow, shattered the skull into a dozen or so pieces. The emerald flames disappeared and the room plunged back into near darkness.
I looked over at the monk in disbelief. He looked at me, offered a thin smile, and a wink. I nodded to him. Why the silent monk joined us, I do not know. His aide had proved invaluable though. The singed party rushed forward to join us. Althalus stood over the bits of skull, then squatted. “I seem to remember reading something about these things – flameskulls. They regenerate. We can dowse it in holy water or use a remove curse spell or portion on it”
“That would have been useful information a few hours ago,” Arius said.
The warlock turned to him. “Sorry, I just remembered it.” With our warlock, one could never be sure. One day he will lead us all to our ruin…
“I have a remove curse portion we found on the road to Tempora,” Brandon said.
“Gather the pieces and soak it good,” Arius said. “We don’t want this thing regenerating and coming up behind us at some point.” Satisfied that we had dispensed the abomination to the planes of hell, we went back to sleep.
Day and night underground is more of a feeling, with no frames of reference. I do know we all felt much more replenished as we got up and nibbled at our rations. Arius was listening at the secret door we had found, using his hands to feel it out, as if he could sense what was on the other side. “I think it is safe for us to open this,” Arius said after a few minutes.
He inserted the strange key and it made a loud clicking sound. The stone door swung towards us and we saw a long narrow hallway leading to a room with a cistern in it. Moving cautiously, we closed on the water source.
“We should fill our water skins,” I offered as we entered the room.
“I wouldn’t,” warned Theren. “Water in such places may be cursed, or worse.”
“Look down,” Arius said. “The dust has been disturbed. Someone has brought a large party through here recently.” He was right…perhaps the missing paladins.
The cistern was a raised stone circle several feet across and two feet off of the floor. A lone tarnished brass pillar rose from the center, providing a thin trickle of water into the pool. Mold grew along the stonework of the cistern and onto the floor, indeed there was a hint of green mold on the high domed ceiling as well. Thin cracks showed in the ceiling as well.
Brandon seemed anxious to check the cistern out. Given the dangers we had faced thus far, I was less inclined. Memories of him uncovering the flameskull came to mind. “I do not sense any traps,” Theren said. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any risk here.
Brandon leaned over. “There’s some stuff in the bottom of the pool. Some coins and stuff.”
I reached into my backpack and tossed a copper piece into the pool. Nothing happened. “I think it is a mistake to take anything from such a pool.”
“We should move on,” Theren offered. We all started to walk away, or so I thought. Brandon apparently was too tempted by the offerings at the bottom. I didn’t see him reach in, but I heard a loud splashing sound. As I turned, I saw the water rise up as if it were alive, snaking around his neck, and pulling him head first into the pool. His feet went up in the air and his arms flailed about madly.
“Water weird,” muttered Althalus. “This is bad.” Always the master of the obvious…
“Aw crap,” Arius said. “He reached in.”
Brandon tried to brace against the edge of the cistern and get free, but failed miserably. Arius grabbed his legs and pulled hard. I pulled out Bonebraker and swung it at the rising pillar of water. The flail went through the water, splashing some of it against the wall.
“Duck,” came the voice of Theren from behind me.
“Did you see a duck?” Arius asked.
“Where’s the duck?” Althalus queried.
“No you fools…duck!” Theren snapped. There was a low rumble and the air quaked as he unleashed a magic spell. It barely seemed to shake the water weird.
Dimitrious lashed out at the creature with his fists, splattering more of the water onto the stone floor. Althalus hit with a green beam of his eldritch power, spraying right through him, wisps of steam rising from where the beam hit it.
Arius swung, his sword shimmering as if charged with some sort of holy magic. The water splashed the rest of the party and the form of the water weird disappeared, the water splashing down into the cistern.
Brandon moved up carefully and reach in, pulling out a tarnished brass bit of jewelry. “Look,” he said holding it up.
“That was not worth nearly dying,” Althalus said. Dejected, the ranger put the wet jewelry in his pack.
The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do.
I write in a lot of different genres, from true crime to sci-fi to military history. Over the years I have accumulated a lot of experience in being an author. This list covers a pretty wide variety of those genre’s. It is intended for my author friends out there to give them a moment of self-indulgence. As such, I present the following:
You know you are a writer when you…
…carry on conversations in your head (or out loud) with people that are either dead or who never existed.
…hate math but when you look at your Amazon author’s ratings you want to get into full algebra mode to try and figure out your book sales, ratings, etc.
…delete more words than ever appear in print.
…begrudgingly admit when an editor catches something you missed.
…wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea…and in the morning you can only remember having the brilliant idea, not what it was.
…you look at an editor’s comment about a paragraph and say, “That’s cute, but there’s no fucking way I’m changing that!”
…have stacks of research and notes all around your PC and can find any single page in less than 20 seconds if called upon.
…experience dread when sitting at a lonely table at Barnes & Noble to autograph books.
…spend six hours reading to get three sentences of content and consider yourself productive.
…have referred to an editor as, “That Fuckity-fuck-fucking-fuck-faced-fucker.”
…don’t express emotion when a person in your life dies, but you weep when you kill one of your favorite characters.
…are writing stories in your sleep.
…critique other writer’s sources and footnotes.
…have told someone, “Yes, everyone has a novel in them. That doesn’t mean they were meant to put it on paper.”
…think the character you are describing is George Clooney but the fans think it’s Jerry Lewis.
…are accused of having subtext in your work that doesn’t exist.
…devise new ways to procrastinate.
…get excited to learn a new feature of MS Word.
…have seen comments from an editor and said things out loud like, “How in the hell can you have a problem with the word ‘red’?”
…get into arguments with fans about continuity errors.
…get into arguments with characters that don’t really exist outside of your mind.
…can watch TV and know when a suspect is lying on a true crime show because you have studied how to spot it.
…name a character after some douchebag in your life, just so you can enjoy killing the character (slowly, without mercy.)
…read your own words and physically cringe.
…see something on TV and you’re sure they lifted it from one of your works.
…hide Easter eggs in your manuscript just to see if readers find them.
…wince when someone sends you an unsolicited manuscript and expects you to read it and provide detailed input – by Wednesday – pro bono.
…have standing instructions to destroy your personal journals upon your death.
…consider caffeine the top of your food pyramid.
…have asked yourself, “What would my character do in this situation?”
…have boxes of research material you can’t toss because it was so hard to get in the first place.
…have been days when you have not seen sunlight because of your craft.
…lost your temper when someone has asked for a free copy of one of your books. “Can you shoot me a PDF of your latest book?” “No. Fuck no.”
…you own a hoodie that says, “Basically a Detective.” (true story – thanks CrimeCon!)
…engage in debates with people about the range of lasers, particle projection cannons, and rail guns.
…have toys in your workspace to spark creativity.
…have spent 15 minutes rewriting a sentence only to delete it.
…know the archivists at the National Archives by name (or they know your birthday.)
…take notes of people’s personality and physical quirks to use later in your stories.
…own maps for planets that do not exist.
…have nightmares because of things you are writing.
…have books on your shelf that you wrote that you have not opened in years – and when you do, you critique your own work.
…secretly believe your characters are meeting and plotting against you.
…question other people’s/character’s sanity, but never your own.
…have debates with yourself over how a sentence can be interpreted…and lose the argument!
…appreciate why Hemmingway drank so much when he wrote.
…have flipped-off the PC monitor after reading an idiotic review on Amazon.
…know the tunnel system under the Library of Congress as well as your own basement.
…go through Facebook for photos of people to use as characters in your novel.
…have to ask someone what day it is because you were so busy writing, you are no longer sure.
…never feel alone because of the voices in your head.
…get calls from your police friends asking, “Did you see that shit on TV?”
…can’t cook breakfast but have a solid understanding of forensics psychology and/or quantum mechanics.
…define a great day as, “having scored at the National Archives!” and It has nothing to do with sex.
…meet other authors and realize that there’s a reason you work in your home office alone.
…look forward to meeting your fans and dread it at the same time.
…repeat yourself often because you can no longer distinguish the conversations in your head and the ones you say out loud. (true story)
…can’t remember the last time you ate, but can describe the last meal your character had in intimate detail.
…are actively considering taking up alcoholism because it might help hone your craft.
…you can’t change the oil on your car but you know when a fusion reactor doesn’t sound right on a BattleMech.
…have written up reviews of reviews you have received. “Your review of my recent book demonstrates a third grade understanding of grammar, at best. While I don’t use the words, ‘flatulating butthead,” often, they seem to apply in your case.” Or, the more popular, “Does your mommy know you are on the internet?”
…are caught by your spouse looking at pictures on your PC, and it isn’t porn, it’s autopsy photos. (true story)
…read an interview where you are quoted, but you were never interviewed by the writer.
…cringe at questions about book production. Example: “When will this be available in Australia, as an audio book, in French?” Rant Mode Engaged: We are writers, not publishers. We don’t know this shit. We are the LAST to know this shit.
…are convinced that white van parked for three hours in front of your house is the FBI or Virginia State Police surveilling you. (true story)
…count comic books and movies as “research expenses.”
…watch a true crime show and mentally pick up on all of the procedural mistakes.
…have spoken in the voice of one of your characters, hopefully when alone and in private.
…like a book for things that no one else does. “The plot structure was unorthodox and cool…I’m SO stealing it for my next project.”
…consider among your best friends, characters you created. Sidebar: Do not use them for references on job applications.
…you get hang-up phone calls from burner phones and are convinced it is serial killers you have written about. (true story)
…are unsure what day it is because you are so in-deep with a writing project.
…spend your whole life waiting to be recognized and asked for autographs, only to find each one to be an awkward and sometimes disturbing encounter.
…are recognized for something you wrote that you put little effort into; while the work you are most proud of is hardly read by fans.
…have missed one or more meals because of a sentence that is being a bitch and refusing to be written correctly.
…study things that most other people do not, just so you can be accurate. Example: Geographic profiling algorithms.
…have had an argument with a fan over a character you created, and killed. “How could you have killed her that way?” “You do realize that she’s not a real person, right? And I killed her because I created her!”
…have made someone uncomfortable at a dinner party when they ask you about your latest project. “…and she was brutally stabbed repeatedly for a dozen times. The splatter pattern was everywhere…”
…realize your search history on our PC ensures you are going to go to jail. Examples: Ligature strangulation. Time to asphyxiate an adult. Moving dead bodies. Decomposition of human remains. Unsolved serial killing sprees. Murder kits. Note: My wife is the safest person on the world. If anything happens to her, I will go to jail on my search history alone.
….apply what you learned about police interrogations and spotting liars into your day-to-day interactions with other people. “Oh, she’s lying, listen to how she responded by my question…”
…have no idea what kind or size of engine is in your car, but can rattle off the fusion reactors and manufacturers for every model of BattleMaster BattleMech ever produced.
…have maps of WWI battlefields (or similar locales) laying around your office because you never know when you might need them.
…experience both excitement and sheer terror when a new book is released.
…struggle telling people at your day job what you do at night. “Technically, when I’m not here, I’m out fighting crime…”
I am writing this in that post-con haze, so if it seems jumbled, it probably is. This was a Gen Con to remember. It was the first time that I brought along a true sidekick, my nine year old grandson Trenton. I’ll talk about Gen Con for kids a little bit at the end of this blog, so read on. Also, as a proviso, I am a freelance writer in the industry, pretty much writing only for Catalyst Game Labs right now on BattleTech. So there is going to be a lot of BattleTech in this post. No apologies…
This year there were more exhibitors than ever. The exhibit hall is becoming massive which is fantastic. Some notables were not there. Reaper Miniatures once again did not show. I love their product and they contribute to paint-and-take, but no booth. Wizards of the Coast may have been there, but I never found them.
My first stop was Catalyst Game Labs. One word: Wow. An awesome (pun intended) seven foot tall BattleMech loomed over a demo game with massive twelve inch tall miniatures on a map you had to walk on to play! My novella (combined with Phil Lee’s outstanding work) sold out half-way through the first day. Awesome sauce! I saw a lot of fathers and grandfathers scoring copies of the Beginner’s Box Set for their kids. The boxed sets sold out day one. Saturday they released Catalyst energy drinks – Coolant Flush and Dragon Piss. I thought it was a whacked idea – until I saw people purchasing them by the case. Then I saw my son buying some. Sometimes I am just totally wrong. It’s rare, but it happens.
I played some demo games – which is one of the reasons I go to Gen Con. I purchased the Game of Thrones minis game from CMON but hadn’t played it yet. So I got into a demo of it. Great game. A lot of the mechanics relies on the NPC figures and their powers as well as the character cards. Here’s a tip, don’t ride your cavalry into the Mountain and his men. Wow, I devastated a full-on House Stark cavalry charge…panicking them into a rout. I enjoyed it, but have come to the realization that you have to understand and really think through your cards for a round in order to be victorious.
A Lannister Always Pays His Debts
Steamforged Games really has a strong following. I watched a round of Guild Ball and was very tempted to pick it up – but I am behind on my miniatures painting as it is.
Modiphius Entertainment had the new Star Trek RPG supplements, one of which I picked up (The Beta Quadrant). Yes, there will be a separate review of this and all the neat stuff I bought. They had a coupon deal where if you spent 30 dollars, you got a miniature. Mine was Khan. Could this mean we are finally going to get a Star Trek II set of miniatures, the ones with the cool red and white uniforms? Fingers are crossed on the part of this fan.
Fantasy Flight Games released the conversion kit for X-Wing and the thing few out the doors. I was skeptical when they announced a new set of rules for X-Wing. I spoke with some fans during a demo though and they assured me that FFG handled this perfectly with the conversion kit. Lots of praise from the die-hards on this one. As it was, I picked up the Rebel Commandos and Han Solo for Star Wars Legion. The legion demo tables were outstanding.
I played the new Warhammer Kill Team. I went in pretty open-minded. To be honest, I REALLY liked it. The miniatures and terrain quality were top-notch and the play level is perfect, squads against squads, man-against-man (as opposed to full-on unit actions). They sold out on Friday because they have a winner.
Paizo sold out of Starfinder Armory too. I saw a copy of it and was impressed enough to add it to my wish list on Amazon. One of the guys at Paizo complimented me on my blog which was a pleasant surprise. Hey, Paizo, I would review more of your stuff if you sent it to me.
I got to watch a demo of Battlestar Galactica from Ares games. Love the concept – love the mini’s. I can almost feel the drain on my wallet that is going to come from this. I’m a big fan of Ares Games.
One thing that really stood out was Miniteman Miniatures over at Lucas Oil Stadium. They scan your head to render a 3D image that you can get put on a miniature ranging from 28mm to 60mm. My son, grandson, and I all did this and when they get their site up, we’re ordering minis of ourselves. I was told it would run about a $1 per mm. Totally worth it.
I always take shots of the terrain when I am wandering around. Some of it is outstanding. I always think the guys that do good terrain get overlooked at events like this by the fans of the miniatures themselves. I loved this Privateer Press fortress assault game board, as an example.
I played in the ‘Mech Pods, as always. I even got in a round with my son and grandson, which was a blast. You want to hook a kid on gaming, start them with the experience of gaming.
I saw one game coming I must have. Aliens. This is right from the movie. You play the Marines fighting off wave after wave of aliens. Cooperative play, death is assured. I am SO onboard with this game concept. Gale Force Nine released a Firefly tactical game at the convention that looked great (I watched a demo of this one.) But this is Aliens. Ripley and Hudson and Hicks. All before they mucked up the Aliens universe. Oh yes, this will be mine!
I heckled the Catalyst Games Lab forum from the front row. We got a commitment from my editor, John Helfers, that yes, my novel, Forever Faithful is coming, “soon.” BattleTech is back. One person told me, “Brent (Evans) promised us fiction, a boxed set, and movement on the timeline last year. He totally delivered!” Next year is the 35th Anniversary, so plan on a LOT of stuff. My running joke was I was going to get a red hat that said, “Make Wolf’s Dragoons Great Again,” but I didn’t want the political backlash. Snicker…
Funny side story. Outside of the lecture before it started I was talking to some fans. My name badge was flipped. One guy railed about Betrayal of Ideals (which I wrote). “The politics were good but the action scenes were horrible. The author really doesn’t know much about BattleTech or how military actions go.” Another fan, who knew who I was, pointed out that I was the author of that book. Debate ended.
I capped off the con with Masters and Minions. Ray Arrastia got stuck with me against four players. This year I had my ‘Mechs painted as Batman and Superman (a Gallowglas and Atlas (old school) accordingly.) I would love to tell you that we devastated the enemy, but lying is not good. On round one, my Gallowglas was downed and Ray’s Warhammer took two shots to the head from a light ‘Mech that turned his pilot in a scorched pile of goo.
I have come to hate the partial cover rules. I had a gauss rifle and large laser hits on the enemy that ended up tearing up a level one hillside. Robbed…robbed I say!
I avenged Ray’s headshot death by unleashing the same rage and fury on that tiny little Firefly that killed ray. I got him with headshots as well. Seyla!
I had a hard stop at 10:45pm, and when I left, Ray’s ‘Mech had toilet paper for armor and my Atlas was going to get hammered from two sides. I am sure Ray gave the good fight…but in the end, the odds were not in our favor, nor was our skills against these guys! Well fought!
Taking a Kid to Gen Con
I was unsure how my nine year old grandson would respond to Gen Con or how it would affect my own experience. Trenton was great and the crowds were very cautious of kids. Gen Con is VERY kid friendly. We signed him up for his first RPG at the Kid Zone at Lucas Oil Stadium and he is now hooked! Watching BattleTech demos, he went and purchased his first ‘Mech, “just like the one on Pop-Pop’s book.”
Trenton picked up Teen Titans from Cryptozoic and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure from Steve Jackson Games. He really wanted to meet Steve Jackson just to say he liked his games. I introduced him to Mike Stackpole, and scored some great brownie points there. “He’s famous Pop-Pop.” “I know, he’s a New York Times Bestselling author. So I am and your mother.” “Yeah, but he writes Star Wars.” I swear, I can’t win.
Lucas Oil Stadium’s kid zone was perfect for younger gamers. I took Trenton over to build a TARDIS too – and he enjoyed it. He loved doing the paint-and-take too, as did I. He loved looking at the demos of Star Wars Legion. It took some pre-planning to make sure he was prepared for the con, but he came away a true gamer and fan.
And that’s a wrap. Another successful Gen Con under our belts. Now we can begin planning next years anniversary celebration!
So there we were, huddled in a hotel room during Gen Con 2017, a group of BattleTech authors and developers, plotting out the next big thing for BattleTech. A long year ago, or so it feels like. Looking back, we should have had liquor. The big topics – fiction driving the universe and “the next big thing.”
It used to be that way. Old school really. The novels were where big events unfolded, and the sourcebooks and scenario packs followed to give the game details. We did that up through the Dark Ages. Then fiction almost evaporated, with the exception of BattleCorps. The Jihad, a terminally long period of product, was just that – product. Sourcebook after sourcebook.
Don’t get me wrong, I like sourcebooks – but it’s hard to identify with characters from them. It was difficult for me to get jazzed about the Jihad because we lost so many great characters and didn’t fill their shoes with equally cool characters. Many were killed rather unceremoniously, off camera, a wandering sentence in a sourcebook. It hurt to watch as one of the old-school writers. Personally, I think that the lack of fiction is one of the things that fans missed out of the Jihad…that and the knowledge of what would follow, the Republic of the Sphere.
Brent Evans wanted to get back to our roots. Fiction in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Frankly, I was pumped at the idea. There are some other reasons. I played a somewhat critical role in getting fiction for BattleTech relaunched. While I can’t go into details, let’s just say, I had a role in us getting the BattleTech Legends line back in epub format and available. While it may sound like I’m bragging, I am (wink). That story will have to wait.
I have long maintained that characters drive the BattleTech stories and the universe – not dossiers buried in some game product. People want to read stories about characters doing some damned heroic stuff, facing incredible odds, etc. The ‘Mechs, well, they are characters too. They have personalities, quirks, and their own appearances. People want stories, like we did back in the day. The imagery of BattleTech is in the fiction and artwork. It is what draws people into the game, or at least, it used.
What followed from last year’s Gen Con was the equivalent of fiction being a sports car attempting to merge onto a freeway of sourcebook products (semi’s) that were in draft already. Many other meetings followed. John Helfers and Brent wanted more emphasis on novellas, short novels, to fill out the line. Personally, I like that approach. It means a lot more fiction sooner. Full-blown novels are not just thrown together, they take a lot of time.
In that word-storm of chaos, The Anvil was born.
Taken from three paragraphs of the upcoming sourcebook, Shattered Fortress, it was a story about characters – characters that we were building to fill greater roles, some years from now. I was asked to tackle this one, almost a pilot test of the novella stuff. I knew one thing, it would never fit in a single novella format – around 20k words. To tell it right, it needed to be bigger – and it clocked in at over double that when completed. This comes in at well over 40k words. For those of you who wonder, the old word limit back in the ROC days of novels was around 65k words, something I proudly and often violated.
I have only touched on the Jade Falcons once before, in Operation Audacity. This would be my first real exploration of that Clan. That meant reading all of the Dark Ages novels dealing with the Falcons all over again. There was a wealth of material to tap with that content. In one weekend I read four novels, just to get in the Jade Falcon mindset.
The story came from the sourcebook material (in draft at the time). BattleTech books are less about the plot, and more about the characters. For this one I got to tap a character I had created, Roderick Steiner, from Fire at Will. Roderick was cool. For years he hid his identity as grandson of Adam “Information is Ammunition” Steiner. When he accepted his birthright, he rocked it out. Yes, I pay homage to Adam and the TV cartoon series in the novella, just once, and its snarky. Roderick is neat. Roderick has grown since Fire at Will though, he has not had a lot of choice. On top of all of that, how often do you see the General of the Armies wading into battle personally? Not since the days of Nondi Steiner I’d venture to guess, if not earlier.
Another key character in this novella’s saga was Stephanie Chistu of Clan Jade Falcon. I really wanted her to pop. Last autumn I took a blacksmithing class and wanted to tie that into her character. She is a different kind of Jade Falcon warrior, a counter to Malvina Hazen and her Mongol Doctrine. I wanted to show that not all Falcons were blindly following Mad-Malvina. Her style of combat and even speech is different. She has a hint of Aiden Pryde in her personality, but Stephanie is quite different. She is unique. She is the true Jade Falcon – at least in her mind and my own.
I have a proclivity for very strong female characters, and this book is no exception. Chistu is not just tough, she’s a thinker. Genetically bred for war, that doesn’t mean she’s a mindless automaton. She creates her own honor which is kind of cool. In a universe of dominating characters with massive Stalker-sized egos, she is a breath of fresh air. I get to introduce another strong female too, so I’m kind of enjoying that as well.
The setting for the novella was ground that had been tread on before, extensively – so there were more books to consume before I could write it. Let’s just say it is familiar ground.
I wrote the novella in three weeks, in the evenings and on weekends. I immersed myself in it. I will say I am a bit rusty on writing BattleTech, and the editors were pretty patient with me.
The units in this book:
Delta and Gamma Galaxies – Clan Jade Falcon
Seventeenth Arcturan Guards
Fifteenth Arcturan Guards
Second Royal Guard
I tried to provide some paint schemes for these, for the fans out there that paint an entire unit. I know how the fan-boys are.
Yes, there is truth in the fact that I included fans names in the book. Some will be delighted, others dismayed. Don’t email and ask me, I react poorly to such requests.
I hope the BattleTech fans like it, especially the Lyran and Jade Falcon fans.
Oh, as a teaser – here’s the original back cover text I had proposed…
The Ghosts of Coventry…
Jade Falcon Khan Malvina Hazen wants bloody revenge for the Falcon’s defeat on Coventry nearly a century earlier. She sends one of her best leaders, Galaxy Commander Stephanie Chistu to be her executioner. Hazen wants to corrupt her to her brutal Mongol Doctrine or have fail utterly and fall from grace. Coventry hangs in the balance and either way, Hazen wins.
But Chistu has plans of her own. Facing off against the best Generals of the Lyran Commonwealth, she has to find a path of honor while her enemies and her own Khan attempt to kill her. All of them have underestimated Stephanie Chistu and it will cost one of them their life. She proves herself to be the anvil in the forging of the Jade Falcon’s true path to honor.
So what is next for me?
The next project to be published will be Forever Faithful, which editor John Helfers leaked, deals with the Smoke Jaguars. That book has been done for a year, but we are positioning it for a special release-ish.
I just finished a Wolf’s Dragoon’s novella a few weeks ago. I have a title for it, but I’m not putting it out there yet because in many respects, it tells you a LOT about the novella. It came in at 31k words. It should be coming out next year, I hope around Gen Con.
I am working on a huge novel, one that is pivotal for the universe. It’s a big deal. I had to draw up a twelve page document just to create the foundation to document the novel itself. This is for next year and the book will be a thick one – that much I can assure you. It will change everything. This one is uber-secret.
Well, that’s it for a while. Prepping for Gen Con and Master’s and Minions.