Original Inner Sphere Maps

I have been a BattleTech writer since the first Tech Readout (3025).  I saw the unseen before they were, well, unseen.  Some of my FASA-era background material over the years has just plain been lost or discarded decades ago when I deemed it hopelessly obsolete.

Some, not all.

I have unearthed a treasure trove of old material.  I doubt seriously these are covered under NDA since the material has been published ages ago.  I dug a lot of this out because of some super-top-secret work I am doing in BattleTech right now.

The first release from my archives – the original maps of the Inner Sphere.  These were photocopies provided to me by Ross Babcock back in the day.  FASA was pinching pennies so much that they were copied on the back of copies of Traveller ship deckplans they used to sell.  You can see on the one set of maps where Ross drew with a red ink pen the boundaries in 3025 – which is pretty neat.

I am sure some of you will spend hours looking at these seeking hidden worlds, and hell, who knows, they may be there.  To my knowledge this is the only set of these hand drawn maps from that era still kicking around.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy perusing them.

IMG_1626
The Free World’s League.  You can see the starship blueprint lines bleeding through
IMG_1625
House Steiner
IMG_1624
Unfortunately some of the toner is starting to come off.  I’m glad I took digital images before they fall apart. 
IMG_1623
My favorite.  Ross Babcock drew the lines of this showing the house borders.  I never compared these to the finally published images, so who knows what little quirks may appear.  

 

Advertisements

Spoiler Free Review of Thor Ragnarok

Thor-Ragnarok

If you don’t know from my previous blog posts, I’ll fill you in.  I am a comic book junkie.  This era of superhero movies is something that I have waited for my entire lifetime.  Geekiness has become accepted. It is my era.

I actually read the current Thor comic, despite its heavy political and social overtones.  I didn’t come into this movie with big expectations.  The trailers showed the Hulk and Loki, so I knew there was some potential for good stuff here.  The post-credit scene from Dr. Strange proves to be well-thought out and incorporates perfectly into this film.  Kudos to the writers!

Thor Ragnarok is the story of a boy growing to manhood, coping with his father’s past and fate.  It is the story of an awesome warrior seeking redemption.  It is the story of the boy’s wacky brother who is both hero and villain, often in the same scene. It is the story of an abused child with a wee-bit of homicidal rage in her makeup – who seeks to relive her glory days.  That is as much as I will say about the plot.

The humor and even some of the visual effects harken from Guardians of the Galaxy II. I found myself chuckling throughout the film, which makes this a departure from previous Thor outings.  It’s not just insider humor either.  My wife, who is not a fan of superhero movies, laughed throughout the movie.  The fact that she stayed awake during the entire film speaks volumes.

From a writer’s perspective, we see some real development and growth the characters.  The Hulk, who we rarely get more than a few words from, gets a fair amount of screen time and is fun. There are some scenes that harken back to the Avengers when Thor, Loki, and Hulk tangled that are fun.

I was on the fence with Jeff Goldbloom’s character until the second (yes there are two) post-credit scenes.

Marvel gets one thing – start with solid writing and you can produce a great, sometimes epic, film.  Frankly, they are just printing money….money that I am more than willing to hand them if they keep the quality up.

In a season where Hollywood has wallowed in the mire of scandal after scandal, and has produced films that were marginal at best – this movie is outstanding.  It was funny, had plenty of action, and a solid storyline.  A rip-roaring good time with a great choice of battle music.

I give it five out of five stars.

Update on the book tour for A Special Kind of Evil – The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings

IMG_4282
We always appreciate the turnout to discuss cold cases.

My co-author (and daughter) and I are about half-way through our live lectures as part of our book tour for A Special Kind of Evil.  We are not big on book signing events at bookstores, but tend to favor lectures at libraries and colleges on the subject.  This gives us a chance to have more of a dialogue with participants and have them engage more.  We don’t sell books at these events but we do sign them.  This was never about selling books as much as it was about getting the stories out.

These events are hard to do. An hour cannot do complete justice to the stories.  I always say it is akin to trying to pour five gallons of water into a one gallon bucket.

We have some other events coming up, and we hope they too will generate some new leads as well.  Someone out there knows something…

  • November 4 – Culpeper County Public Library, Culpeper, Virginia, 3:00pm.
  • November 28 – Newport News Library, Grissom Branch, 7:00pm.
  • Williamsburg Library will be January 20 at 2:00pm in the Kitzinger Room at the James City County Branch.

We look forward to seeing you there and answering your questions.

Our session at the Tabb Library in York County was packed to overflowing.  For us this is an indication that the community there is still very interested in the cases.  More than a few things percolated up at that session.  One, a former-relative of Steve Blackmon, a former Gloucester sheriff’s deputy was there and claimed that he told family members he had been cleared of the crimes by polygraph.  That was the first time we had heard that he had been cleared.  Of course polygraphs are only as a good as the person administering them.  Blackmon, and Ron Little’s names come up a LOT in these cases as possible suspects.  Blackmon himself is out on parole for a pair of drug-related murders in South Carolina.  The attendee also told us he was aware the book had been published.  We would love a chance to speak with him…we have many questions that have come up in the last two-plus years of researching.  All-in-all, that was fascinating.

IMG_1571
Ten minutes before started!  A great turnout.

We were honored that friends of Robin Edwards and the family of Keith Call attended.  I am sure that it was comforting to know that their community was so engaged on finding the killer(s).

We also had a moment or two of intrigue.  Victoria was approached by one attendee, Gordy Price who asked us to call him.  Gordy was making a horror film called The Waterman and had heard about a man that had found a strange weapon buried not far from the Colonial Parkway in Seaford.  He graciously put us in contact with Keith William Krushel Jr. who had found the weapon.

Keith was clearing some property as part of a construction job back in July.  He found a machete wrapped in duct tape, buried three feet deep.  It was wrapped as if someone was trying to protect or preserve it for some reason.  His initial thought was that it was a lawnmower blade.  He handled it with gloves, just in case it was used in some sort of crime.  Smart guy.

Do you know of any crimes committed with a machete in the area?  Please reach out to the FBI if you do.  I’m confident they’d love to hear from you.

His aunt remembered the Thomas – Dowski murders both were committed with a knife and contacted the FBI who took it into their possession.  One of the agents, who had spent time on a Virginia farm, indicated he had never seen a blade wrapped for preservation like this.  This agent speculated that the knife may have been used in a crime but saved by someone else, perhaps as leverage against the perpetrator.  “You know, you turn me in, I will go and get that machete and turn it over to the authorities.”  They couldn’t come up with a reason that the killer would do that to a blade.

I was doubtful that it was used in the Thomas – Dowski case.  While a machete is a dangerous weapon, it could have been unwieldy to use to cut someone’s throat, presumably from behind.  Still, you can’t ignore something like this.  Nevertheless we turned the information over to Bill Thomas (Cathy’s brother) who followed up with the FBI.  While it is unlikely that it was used in the Colonial Parkway murders, it may have been involved with some other crime. I have included some photos to assist any would-be crime solvers.  Kudos to Mr. Krushel for doing the right thing and turning it in!

I received a half-dozen different theories and got a chance to correspond with someone that knew Steve Blackmon from his school days.  She was useful in fleshing out some details about him and his personality. It is pretty clear that Blackmon was a crooked cop.  Does that make him the Colonial Parkway murderer?  Perhaps time and new testing techniques will tell.

Our library session spurred another tip that came into our blog – one which I deleted at the behest of the requestor.  This happens more than you might think at these sessions.  This lead has been turned into the FBI via one of the family members who has regular contact with them.  More on that if anything useful does come of it.  This person claimed that they had family members that had been driving on the Parkway on October 9, 1986 and had seen Cathy Thomas’s white Civic, the two girls with their hands crossed, and may have even heard one of them calling for help.  They also saw another vehicle parked next to the Honda as well.  They called in this sighting to the police at the time.  Suffice it to say, it was fascinating.

We also did a session at the Norfolk Public Library and that was well attended as well.  What was great there was that we had a police officer in attendance and a former FBI agent. The latter assured Victoria that he sided with her, that it was likely two killers that had committed these crimes.

The Norfolk crowd had some interesting theories which is always fun.  True crime is so popular now that it has turned millions of people into amateur detectives.  We encourage this.  While we can offer our perspective on such theories, we cannot determine if they are accurate or not until an arrest is made.

So, as we move into the autumn and winter, we hope you will be able to join us soon at an upcoming event!

#ColonialParkwayMurders

#Truecrime

Review of Ruby Ridge – The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family by Jess Walter

Ruby

This is one of those books that is a true crime and a true tragedy, both at the same time.  We all vaguely remember the story that the media put in front of us.  A family of white separatist lawbreakers huddled up on a mountain stood off against the FBI.  Memories blur for most of us.  Before reading this book I remembered that some of them were shot.  I remembered there being some horrible mistakes on the part of the federal authorities as well.

Reading this book however brought clarity to all of this.  In these times where we find ourselves where labels like “white separatists” are tossed about on the news so liberally, it is important to go back and study Ruby Ridge.

Jess Walter did an outstanding job of laying out the facts to process this seemingly innocent crime that escalated to cold-blooded murder.  The author does an outstanding job of cutting through the myths around this story and dealing with the people and what occurred.  It is no small task, given that the federal accounts do not even agree with each other.

Randy Weaver was and is his own man. He did commit some crimes.  He did nothing that warranted what happened to him and his family however.  This is a story about the government living up to its own darkest ideals.  The author gives the appropriate trail of breadcrumbs to lead the reader up the trail where what should have been a routine criminal prosecution turned into butchery.  When you frame this against the events in Waco against the Branch Davidians and Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Office Building; you find yourself as a reader asking yourself, “could this happen again?”

Ruby Ridge (the book) is a cautionary tale for all of us in these politically charged times where the rights of individuals are clashing with political correctness.  I found the book made me sit and think about current affairs, yet clearly it was written years before our current climate.  Any book that make you think, that compels you to contemplate the role of your government is destined to be a good book.

I’m glad I waited to read it – and moreover, I’m glad I finally did.

 

Episode 4 – The Stockwell Strangler (Part 2)

Part II of a fascinating case.

The True Crime Enthusiast

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-bwq2p-7836e9

Join The True Crime Enthusiast as this week on the podcast we conclude the disturbing case of The Stockwell Strangler – the evil killer who caused fear and carnage to the elderly throughout South London over the hot summer of 1986…

Facebook – The True Crime Enthusiast

Facebook Discussion Group – The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast Discussion Group

Instagram – truecrimeenthusiast

Twitter – @tc_enthusiast

 

View original post

The Stockwell Strangler – Part 1

I have never reblogged a post- but this one captivated me.

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Obviously he is a desperate man and needs help” – Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Thompson (speaking in 1986)

Stockwell is a district in inner South London, situated in the London borough of Lambeth. It was for a time considered to be one of the poorer areas of London, but it has undergone a bit of an overhaul in recent years, and as it is in proximity to Central London and as a result has excellent transport links, it’s now and up and coming area. It does have its brushes with infamy in its history – most recently for example, Stockwell Underground Station was the scene of the high-profile wrongful killing of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 by armed officers of the London Metropolitan Police. He was wrongfully killed after being mistakenly thought to be a suspect in the attempted bombings of 21st July 2005 – the attacks that…

View original post 4,180 more words

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 18 – The Death of Galinndan

fireball

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters.  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!

Althalus…

The Minotaur called Damon Korth made his way down the line of royal guardsmen, asking them each if they were related to or friends of Matthias Blackshear.  He started with Galinndan who had been at point, putting him at the front of the row we had formed.  Galinndan seemed befuddled at the question, and I half worried that the Minotaur might cleave him with one of the huge axes that hung off of his thick leather belt.  The weapons looked far too familiar.  Blackshear had a pair, a pair he had taken from the Minotaur prince. Suddenly we were thrust in the middle of the story he had started.

This might not end well for us. 

“Well,” Galinndan stammered, “To put the term ‘friends’ loosely, we were, ah, well…”

Apparently Korth saw the truth in the now pale face of our rogue.  “Stand aside!” he barked.  The rogue complied, sulking out of the line.

The other guards told the truth…most of them even knew who Matthias was.  I saw one of them wet himself, a pool of his own urine formed around his feet as Korth confronted him. It was understandable.  The massive creature towered over us and spoke with a voice that made your ribs throb.

Korth approached Brother Dimitrios.  He said nothing, which was no surprise, but calmly shook his head at the query.

He then came to me. I could smell the raw uncooked meat on his breath, he was so close.  Korth asked me if I knew or was friends of Blackshear.  “I know him but I do not consider us ‘friends.’”

“Did you spill blood in battle with him?”

“No,” I said with complete confidence.  My own performance at the battle (see Part 11) we had fought with him had proven less than stellar, and now I was thankful for it.  It was the first and only time that I was thankful I had been transformed into an animal and had not contributed to the fight.

“I will let you pass then,” Korth said.

I let out a low sigh of relief.  I had fought more against our cause in that battle – hitting our druid – than for the former guardsman. At the time it had been seen as a debauch on my part,  Now it appeared it was a good thing.

Bor was next and he didn’t shirk from the Minotaur looming over him.  “We fought with him, yes.  All to aid in the return of his granddaughter from kidnappers.”

“Stand aside with that one,” he pointed to Galinndan whose color was just returning to his face.  Bor joined him, his hand resting on Skull Ringer’s handle.  Korth asked the same question to Arius who responded much as Bor had. That poor paladin, cursed to never even stretch the truth.  He joined the conga line of doom.

Theren remained.  The druid had a knack for fast thinking and talking and I half expected him to someone worm his way out of the battle that seemed to be coming. Instead he almost proudly said that he was a friend of Blackshear and was ordered to stand with the others.  Fool.

For a moment, I figured I was safe.  I had actually told the truth and had been spared.  Korth seemed pleased with having split our party.  “So Blackshear, the scourge of our people, has friends.” He seemed to spit out the last word. “People that would be willing to fight with him…making you our foes.  Now then, if you tell me where he lives, you go free.  Otherwise you face the Ritual of Kurasak – the Splattering.”  Splattering?  That sounded horrible.

Arius puffed out his chest and said, “I refuse to tell you.” Paladins…they have a way of leading good men to their death with their sense of honor.  Korth seemed impressed.  I was wondering if I would have to carve that on Arius’s gravestone – He impressed a Minotaur.

Theren asked, “What if we tell you?”

“Then we will hunt him down and finish our bit of honor by spilling his blood,” the Minotaur said.  “And you will get to save your paltry lives.”  He snorted out a glob of snot that splattered the druid.

Bor grinned and stepped next to Arius.  “I’m with him.”

Korth nodded and turned back to the others.  “These two showed a modicum of bull balls to stand and fight.  Will you?”

The rest agreed, some more grudgingly than others.  Then, to my surprise, Dimitrios stepped out of line where I was, nice and safe, and joined my comrades.  All eyes, my friends, the guardsmen, the Minotaur’s, all of them turned to me. I had a legitimate claim that I had not spilled blood for Blackshear.  These were my comrades.  I looked at Korth.  “I did try to help Blackshear, but I failed.  If everyone else is going to lay their lives down because they won’t tell you, then I guess I should join them.”  I really hated saying it, but I knew without me, they were probably wouldn’t stand a chance.  That didn’t upset me as much as you might think, but I had grown familiar with them and getting new comrades would be time consuming.

As I stood next to them, Arius said, “good job.”

“I fucking hate all of you,” I muttered turning to Arius. “This is your fault.  Paladins…ugh!”

Damon Korth looked over at one of the younger Minotaur’s.  “Send for Prince Wheaton!  Have him join us at the Cousins.  There he will see his brother’s death avenged.”  The other Minotaur’s joined in a chant in unison, “All hail Prince Wheaton!”  The younger creature set off at a full run/gallop across the rolling hills.

We glanced over and saw Korth lean into talk to Captain Wildsong.  The captain seemed to chuckle.  “I imagine he’s not going to have his troops rescue us,” I cursed.

Korth returned to us.  “You men gather your gear.  I promise you nothing more than a fair fight bound by our rede of law.  It takes brave men to do what you are about to do.”  There was a hint of respect in his voice.

“I appreciate that,” Arius said with bravado.

Oh shut up…

We set up and the rest of the guardsmen followed us.  The Minotaur’s were clearly sizing us up.  “I’m doomed,” I said in a low voice for my comrades.

“Why?” Arius asked.

“I can’t use magic on these guys.”

“Why not?”

“You know – magic is kind of forbidden.”

“Who cares?”  The paladin retorted, surprising me somewhat.  “They are creatures from the plains of hell.  Use your magic – we must be all-in…together.”

He had a good point – and that made me feel better.  I only wish I had more in the way of combat spells in my mental arsenal.  The Minotaur’s led us some ways to a large plateau that rose on the plains.  It was flanked by two tall rocks stand nearly 20 feet tall, listing slightly inward, towards the center.  They are weathered heavily, but there was a faint hint of faces carved on them, one male, one female.  They stood as sentries over a large stone circle over 80 feet in diameter. Defiant weeds were growing up between the cracks.  The wind, normally chilled, blew warm over the grasses there.  There were bits of colored glass broken there, as if they were part of something that stood there or a ritual.  Some of the stones have square holes in them, as if they held some sort of upright posts at one point in time.  Some broken and shattered stones, covered in moss, surround the edges of the circle, most over waist high.  Moss and vines were gripping the surrounding stones.  It is a place that is eerie and filled with dread.

“This is the Wayward Cousins,” Korth said.  “It is a place where the powers of magic are the closest to the earth.”

That triggered a memory with me.  At one point the Cousins was known as Starstone – a place of worship by the druids.  During The Druid Wars the druids were hunted and killed in an inquisition that stings to this day.  A band of druids defied the church, killing a cardinal.  The wrath of the church was furious, sending in the Order of the Black Rose to capture and kill them.  This militant order captured the druids at Starstone.  A great battle of magic and swords was fought here. The surviving druids were tied to the stones and tortured to death by the surviving members of some order, ah yes, I remember, the Black Rose.  They cursed this ground to any members of the church.  It is said that the surviving Black Roses all died within a matter of months, all under mysterious circumstances that are tied to the curse.  I remember reading about this on a scroll years ago.  I never thought to see this place.  I thought that the location of this place had been lost long ago.

We were led into the circle and waited for this prince to arrive.  The other guardsmen hung outside of the circle, as if they were getting good positions to watch what was about to come.  I shared what I knew of this place with my comrades.  Arius was angered.  “Cursed ground that affects me?  Hardly fair.”  Theren seemed depressed given his brethren were killed on these very stones.  I’m sure if he wondered if his blood would join those that died here before.

A small party of Minotaur’s arrived several hours later.  One of them wore a rough iron crown shaped like bones with two additional horns, and a thin goatee that almost looked cheesy on such a creature.  His thick hide was pierced with silver rings, rows of them that seemed to be symbolic of something, probably battles.  As they got nearer, the others chanted “Wheaton!  Wheaton!” The prince waved his hand and the chanting stopped.

“Why have you summoned me here to this infernal accursed place Korth?” Wheaton asked.

“My prince, I bring you declared friends of our most hated foe – the black-hearted Blackshear!”

The prince’s left eyebrow cocked up more than I thought possible at the news.  “You are friends with the man that slew my brother?”  His black eyes bore in on each of us.

We said nothing in response.  In the back of my head I wondered if this could somehow be turned around.  I am a warlock after all, and these are creatures created in hell.  An alliance with them could prove useful – if I managed to survive.  Right now, that was a big if.

Korth snorted, and a thin drizzle of snot oozed from his nostrils.  “The Ritual of Kurasak is one of blood and death.  You fight our prince’s champions to the death, if need be.  We are not the barbarians that are portrayed in your puny Karn. We will battle with honor.

Prince Wheaton then spoke. “I will have Damon Korth and Shiver Krang fight for our pride.  If you tell us where Blackshear is we will call this ritual off.  We will leave to kill him, but you will live. Give us that bit of your honor, and you will breathe the warm air of the plains.”

Arius took one step forward. “Knowing what you would do to him prevents us from breaking his honor and telling you.”

“Very well,” the prince said.  “You have acted honorably and will be treated with such here today.”

Damon Korth was the larger of the two, with darker hide and many more silver rings on his torso and arms.  Nicks on his horns and ears show the signs of previous battles.  Shiver Krang was smaller, but thicker, more muscular.  Both were heavily armed with massive battle axes as I had seen in the possession of Matthias Blackshear.  Krang occasionally tosses his axe, spinning it, catching it perfectly each time.  Arrogant.  That could be useful.

Captain Wildsong leaned in, locking his gaze with Arius.  “This is the price for crossing the Vizir,” he boasted.  “If I were you men, I would watch Shiver Krang.  He may be small, but I saw him gore a man during a pillaging they were leading.”  Wildsong leaned back and began to actually place bets with the other men, against us.

Bor spoke up in response.  “You will pay for your betrayal.”

Wildsong laughed.  “I have a dozen armed men at my command.  Even if you survive, you will be in no condition to come after me.”

I glared at him.  Oh, you will pay for that…if we survive.

Prince Wheaton spoke again, his voice booming.  “Should you win, I will grant you a token of my esteem.  I doubt you will win though.  The ritual of Kurasak is one that almost always sealed with blood on stone.

Wheaton steps to the edge of the circle and claps his hands three times.  The remaining Minotaur’s did the same.  Everyone secured a weapon.  This was it, a battle for our very lives.

The pair of foes did not rush in, but leaned slightly, as if readying for a charge, sizing us up.

Shiver charged forward for a goring attack, rushing at Bor, the largest of our party.  The big fighter managed to sidestep the brunt of the assault, but still caught the left horn with his body – staggering Bor back, furrowing back in the moss on the stones, making little marks where his feet slid.

I turned on Shiver Krang and cast hideous laughter on him.  The spell went as planned, the massive Minotaur fell over with a dull thud on the stones; uncontrollable laughing with an almost frightening roar of chuckles.  It was the kind of laughter that sent chills down your spine.  I actually peed a little in my jerkin at the sound.

There was something about when I cast my spell, something strange.  It had to be this place.  What did Korth say?  This was where magic was closest to the earth?  I wondered what that meant.  At the time, I pushed that thought from my mind.

Arius swung behind Shiver and used searing smite, hitting him and setting him on fire. The hide on his back glowed as hair burned and filled the air with horrid smoke.

Theren switched to his bow and fired at Shiver as well but missed. Galinndan also missed with his arrow as well.  Bor swung Skull Ringer that nasty warhammer of his but missed…oddly throwing sparks in the air…which was disturbing on its own. It had never done that before. Dimitrios leapt like a tiger at the only standing Minotaur – Korth.  His grappling attempt failed but he landed on both feet and one hand, ready to spring again.  I swear I saw a grin on his face. Thank the Old Ones, we needed every bit of help we could muster.

Bor’s blood was up, that was evident.  He swung Skull Ringer again, missing wide again, filling the air with sparks.  It only seemed to have that visual effect here, on this ground.  Galinndan notched one of his obsidian tipped arrows that he had coveted so much. It was true!  The arrow buried itself into the singed hide of the Minotaur.  The massive creature blinked out of existence, vanishing for a moment.  Then we saw him again, landing on top of three of the guardsmen outside of the ring, his flames lighting two of them on fire in the process.  Bor was puzzled as to where the Minotaur had gone but I am sure a bit thankful.

The other Minotaur’s cheered.  They seemed to love it. I wanted to cheer myself, but death was far too close at hand.

Damon Korth sprung over the ring of stones at the perimeter of the Wayward Cousins and came back at us.  He rushed at swinging his great axe, hitting Bor so hard he flew five feet and skidded on the stone surface.  Blood filled the air as the axe stopped and Bor fell unconscious, his warhammer skidding out of his grip.

The Minotaur’s and two of the guards cheered – no doubt those traitorous bastards had bet against Bor.

Theren used his healing word for Bor, enough to make his eyelids flutter as he came back from the black gates of death.  He fired his bow as well, hitting the Minotaur, leaving the arrow stuck in him next to Galinndan’s.

I cast another spell, a blast of arcane power.  The energy was incredible flowing through me, double what I had ever experienced before.  The arcane powers hit the Minotaur, knocking him back nearly a dozen feet in the process.  Whatever it was about the Wayward Sisters, this time it had helped my powers.

Arius swept his longsword at his foe, hitting the Minotaur for no damage at all – it failed to pierce his hide.  It only made Korth grin in response.  A grinning Minotaur is not a thing one easily forgets.

Bor staggered to his feet uneasily, making his way to Damon Korth.  Dimitrios shifted behind the fighter, preparing to leap at his foe one more time.

Korth turned to Arius and swung his great axe, cutting right through his armor and spraying Bor with gore.  Damnation this beast was tough!

I noticed the other Minotaurs throwing stones at Shiver who was still uncontrollably roaring with laughter.  That was not good. Their efforts might allow him to break my spell and facing two of these creatures at once was going to prove challenging. There wasn’t anything I could do at this point.

Arius struck with his sword and searing smite, one more lighting up the hide on Korth.  Then I saw something happen that sent a chill down my spine.  Prince Wheaton entered the circle and started to head for Shiver.  He’s going to shatter my spell!

Theren saw it too and decided to transform himself into a bear.  His man form rippled and a massive black bear replaced him.  The bear lumbered between the roaring Shiver and Prince Wheaton.  Theren rose in front of the prince, but did not attack.  The moment he approached, three more Minotaur’s entered the arena, clearly moving to protect the prince. It was a standoff, one that might cost us all our lives if Theren made the wrong move.

Bor swung Skull Ringer, sparks of red and blue in the air, hitting Korth hard with a thwacking sound.  It had to have hurt, but I didn’t see any sign of it.  Bor was stunned that he had not felled the Minotaur. Korth snorted through gritted teeth in response.

I tried again to unleash a blast of arcane energy but missed.  I was merely thankful I had not hit one of my comrades. Then I saw it, Dimitrios sprung like a praying mantis, landing on the shield arm of the Minotaur, and grappled with his arm.  He hung on tight despite the flinging that Korth did.

Theren rose on his hind legs to block Prince Wheaton from reaching Shiver.  The prince grinned, tossed his axe casually past the bear, landing it on Shiver’s chest.  Crap.

Korth gored at Bor tossing him in the air on his horns, sending his near lifeless body on the stones.  I swear I saw part of his intestines hanging off of Korth’s horns, not a promising sign for our badly injured friend. The specter of death cast its shadow on Bor.

I focused on Korth and channeled my arcane blast.  Something happened though…something I have never experienced before.  The energy seemed to summon a magic energy I had no knowledge of.  Where I should have seen an azure burst of magic, I saw instead orange, yellow, and red death.  A fire ball erupted in front of me, engulfing many of our people along with Shiver and Galinndan.  The roar hit me as if I were thrown in an oven.  The super-hot air seared my throat and lungs.  I stumbled out of the blast zone, my royal guard tunic, or what was left of it, burning on my body, the few remains falling on the stone.  A rising mushroom shaped cloud rolled into the sky, black and twisting.  Pain tore at me and my vision tunneled as I fought to avoid unconsciousness. I smelled bacon in the air, and I knew it was one of us.

I looked over where Galinndan had been standing…but all that remained was a pile of ashes that were roughly in his shape on the blackened stone.  He was gone – dead and charred into nothingness.  I felt a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.  What have I done?

The guards along the edge of the ring began to sing, “Burning Ring of Fire,” a popular bardic tune we heard in the taverns of Karn. They would have to be dealt with later.  My eyes closed and my ears roared with approaching darkness.

I remember hearing the sounds of battle around me as I struggled to awaken.  The blackness took forever to shake.  I finally forced my eyes open and saw Theren the bear attacking Shiver, taking him down with a swipe of his claw.

Prince Wheaton clapped his hands three times.  A Minotaur shaman entered the Wayward Cousins and laid hands on his fallen comrades.  Bor was also healed by the shaman, which stunned me.  I was able to make it to my feet, my ears were ringing and I tasted copper of blood in my mouth.  I patted my body to make sure I still had all of my vital parts.

Arius scooped up Galinndan’s ashes and put them in a pouch – there was no saving the rogue at this point. We would mourn him later, assuming we were going to survive.

Prince Wheaton spoke in a thunderous voice.  “The ritual has ended.”  Shiver and Korth bowed their heads in shame.  Wheaton turned to us.  “You have successfully won this trial.  I will grant you one token of respect, honor demands that.  You have fought well, and I consider you honored members of our tribe.  One token of my respect is what I give you for your reward.”

Arius grinned and whispered in my ear.  One word, “Wildsong.”

Good. Make him pay! “Yes!”

Arius stepped forward proudly.  “If you would do us the honor Prince Wheaton.  Would you imprison the guards that are with us?  With this you will get your vengeance on Blackshear and honor will be served. After all they are royal guards which he was a member of. They have threatened us…we know them to be our enemies.  Take them as prisoners and end this.”

“We have not threatened them…” several of the guards protested.

“Be quiet,” Arius barked in response.  “You sat there betting against us.”

Captain Wildsong, caught off guard by the sudden turn of events, stepped forward.  “I…I have done nothing.  Prince Wheaton, you know me.  I am your friend, a friend of your people.  Do not listen to these men.  I have not threatened them.”

Arius tipped his sword at our former captain.  “You told us this was the price of crossing the Vizir.  You set us up to be killed by warning the Minotaur’s we were headed this way.  Your guilt is a forgone conclusion.”

All eyes shifted to Prince Wheaton.  “The honor was offered and must be accepted.  Two things will happen.  We will take Wildsong as our slave for two years.  Also this ends our bane against Blackshear, you have cleared the debt that has been with us like an open wound.  I grow weary of attempting to avenge my brother over the years.”

“You can’t do this – I am a captain of the royal guards,” Wildsong called out.

The Minotaur’s felt differently.  Shackles appeared out of nowhere and were slapped on former Captain Wildsong. He struggled against his new masters, but could not hope to make progress as they quickly disarmed him.

“One more gesture on my part,” the prince said.  A Minotaur appeared with ship piercing clip.  He tore open our armor, one by one, and pierced one nipple, inserting a silver ring there like the other Minotaur’s.  It hurt like hell, but after the fireball, I didn’t even flinch.  “The mark of honorable battle,” he said as Bor took the last piercing.

“You are always welcome with our people as equals,” Wheaton said.  “Justice has been served.”

Captain Wildsong cried out as they led him off of the Wayward Cousins and down the hillside.  “I will get you for this!”

I had no doubt that he would try…in two years’ time.  We turned to the rest of the guardsmen and Arius ordered them to fall in before us.  There was new leadership of this troop now.  If we ever saw Matthias Blackshear again, we would have a hell of a story to tell him as well.

I hope you have been enjoying this saga.  Here are the previous chapters, if you want to follow the adventure thus far.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons