Tantamount – The Pursuit of the Freeway Phantom Serial Killer Available for Pre-Sale

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I write true crime books with my daughter Victoria.  Needless to say, we are not your typical father-daughter in terms of hobbies we share.  It’s complicated and cool both at the same time.

We are pleased to say that our most recent book, Tanatmount, The Pursuit of the Freeway Phantom Serial Killer, is available for pre-order in Kindle format.  The paperback will be available around the time the Kindle version releases.  Tantmount Pre-Order

We have been working on this for a year and a half, if not longer.  I want to say that this is the story of the deaths of seven young girls in Washington DC in 1971-72 and the arrest and conviction of the killer.  That isn’t the case.  This serial murder string is unsolved.  If you are looking for a trial and conviction, this isn’t a book for you.  This is about the pursuit of the murderers, following the investigation and where it went both right and horribly wrong.  (Previous Post on Tantamount)

There are a lot of urban myths and legends, some perpetuated by law enforcement, regarding the Freeway Phantom.  My co-author and I tackle these head-on.  We give you the suspects, how they ended up on that list, etc.  We go down the rabbit holes and come back up again. This is a book about horrific crimes and how investigators struggled to balance giving the families closure and making sure they got the right person.

We reveal new facts, new evidence, new details, that have never been made public before about these murders.  Even if you think you know things about this case, we reveal more.  One investigator we interviewed read the draft manuscript and said, “There’s things in here I didn’t know.”  That is the highest praise we can get as investigative journalists/authors.

We encourage you to order the book – and we encourage you to read the information and form your own conclusions about this incredible serial murder spree.  Follow this blog for more information on these crimes…

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Office Humor: Actual Workplace Quotations

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Over the last few decades I have made a point of capturing some wonderful quotes at work and documenting them.  Some are mine, others are from brilliant coworkers who shall remain nameless.  As I approach my early retirement (28 days, 4 hours, 48 minutes – but who’s counting?) I thought I would share some of these gems, if only for the humor-factor. Many of the guilty parties associated with these have moved on, though some still remain.

  • “We’re looking up the ass of the dead dog with fleas.”  We got this one from The Apprentice and it became the basis for this list.
  • “This must be the KY part of the discussion.” Blaine
  • “I’m not being critical, I’m being elitist.”
  • During a review of a promotion candidate:  “If he saw the ball on the middle of the field, he would pick it up and run with it.” “Okay, but what if we were playing golf?” Blaine.
  • This is a case of, “Lift and present.” What Blaine was told to do during a testicular ultrasound, incorporating the phrase at work. “Interesting slide deck, please, lift and present.”
  • “Any jackass can burn down a barn.”
  • “Why buy a dog and then bark yourself?”
  • “I do not wish to lie to you.”
  • “Words are important.”  “Some words are apparently more important than others.”
  • “She couldn’t find his ass with a flashlight and both hands.”
  • “Who be ‘we’?”
  • “We could line up 12 dead guys with him and he still wouldn’t be a rated a 5.”
  • “That was you…you moron?!”
  • “The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.”
  • “Would you like syrup on that waffle?”
  • “It just seems a little evil…”
  • “We’ll decide that once we find someone to fart in Jay’s chair…”  I can only assume Jay had a gas issue.

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  • “Congratulations; so now what are you going to do?” In other words, you were successful, but that was in the past…like five minutes ago.
  • “One of our values is watching our backs.”
  • “That is one of the keys to our excess…”   He meant to say, “Success”
  • “JayFest 05” – The week of events leading up to Jay’s moving to a new role, including lunches, two cakes, and a self-planned party.
  • “Look, you could invent penicillin but if you are not on the list to get a 4 rating this year, you’re not going to get it.”
  • “It could be worse…no, wait, I was wrong.” Blaine
  • “Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.”
  • “I lost my sanity — my curiosity is all that’s left.”  Blaine
  • “Few things in life are solved with the application of another layer of management.” Blaine
  • “I honestly didn’t know that he was there for me.”
  • “What do you have to do to get fired around here?”
  • “May I say something?” “That depends, is it good?”  Blaine
  • “At the end of this you’ll be thanking us for solving this issue for you.”
  • “We have security through obscurity…” (I personally think this is a great T-shirt logo)
  • “We need to communicate the value of the bell curve in personnel ratings.” Here’s a hint, there is no value to the bell curve in ratings for the employee.  Duh.
  • “Add that to our ugly list.”
  • “What is that sound?”  “That’s the mower, I’m mowing right now.”  “I thought you were working today.”  “I am.”  “Look, if it involves grass at all, it’s not work.”
  • “It’s okay to play the role of devil’s advocate.  But if you don’t tell anyone you’re doing it, you’re just being an asshole.”
  • “We’re good at telling people what they should do not necessarily providing them with what they need to do.”
  • “He had a heart attack.”  “Gee, that’s hard to believe, given his lifestyle of, well, rich food.”  “Not to mention, sloth.” “Oh yeah, can’t forget that.”
  • “Whatever solution you use, think globally.”  “How, exactly, do I do that?  I mean we aren’t anywhere near done yet”  “You know, picture a globe…”
  • “Blaine, sometimes you are just evil.  90% of the time you’re good and productive, but 10% of the time you are evil-Blaine – you are disruptive, morale lowering, and corruptive.”  This was a manager wrongly accusing me of giving him anonymous negative feedback.  He was specifically told to not try and indentify the person that gave him the feedback, so he did the exact opposite of that.  PS.  Nothing inspires me more to write incredible negative feedback than to be wrongly accused of writing negative feedback.  More on this in another blog post.
  • “Good morning everyone.”  “I’m not so sure that I can commit to it being a ‘good morning’ just yet.  It’s still too early in the day.”
  • “Assigned to ‘Special Projects’?  Well I guess that entitles her to a small seat on the little yellow bus.”

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  • “You’d think people would respond to a threat of fire a little more than ignoring it.” This was when Dell computer batteries were igniting.
  • “I have knowledge now — next month I should have more knowledge.”
  • “From my accountant’s mind—”  “You’re kidding right?  ‘Accountant’s mind?’ I mean, this is the sixth time I’ve explained Standard Deviation to you.” Blaine
  • “Guys, are we morons — or are we intelligent morons?”
  • “I think Blaine should do it all,” Bob.  “I think Bob is full of shit,” Blaine replied.
  • “Is “mis-remembering” even a word?”
  • “I will endeavor to find new ways to suck in order to be successful.” Blaine
  • “The list isn’t sorting.”  “Are you sure?  When I click on it it sorts.  It just doesn’t display the numbers in ascending or descending order.”  “Uh, that’s the definition of sorting.”  “Right–I can fix that.”
  • “I appreciate everyone responding vocally about the plan, that’s what this project is all about.”  “So this project is about being vocal???” Blaine
  • “I’ll send your name to the project manager to coordinate….  oh wait…  I don’t have one of those…”
  • “When the system goes down there seems to be some functionality that is lost.”  “Isn’t that what happens when the system goes down?”  Blaine
  • “If it involves grass in any way, it’s not work.”  Blaine to a manager about the annual golf outing.
  • “Do you golf?”  “I used to…then I wised up.”  Blaine
  • “It’s a Cannon and a Canyon.  They’ve fired a cannonball across the canyon and decided that is the best way to get across — regardless of the fact everyone is telling them that they need to build a bridge.”
  • “Technically we did deliver on time.”  “Sounds like the customer feels differently.”  Blaine
  • “If you’re calling to chew my ass, I want you to know that the line in front of you was long, distinguished, and they didn’t leave much.”  Blaine
  • Follow-on – “You’re currently suffering from noassatall.”
  • “Does anyone here think that a four minute response time is going to be a show stopper?”  “You are kidding, right?” Blaine
  • Blaine on Status Reporting:  “How can the development team be reporting everything Green and Yellow?  For God’s sake, they spent millions of dollars on an application that was rejected by the customer and the Americas CIO and is five months behind schedule.  I don’t think that’s all green and yellow.  There might be at least a hint of freaking orange in there!”
  • “You need to define ‘slow.'”  “My definition of slow is someone that has to ask the definition of the word, ‘slow’.”  Blaine
  • “He’ll build you the space shuttle when what you ask for is a toaster.”
  • “The way Mexico is acting lately, we call them, ‘South Canada.'”
  • “Is the global mail template really global?”  “That’s what the “global” part stands for.”  Blaine
  • “Blaine the recurring meeting you invited me to has sessions in the past.  Please univite me to the sessions that have already occurred.”  Blaine:  “Please disregard the sessions in the past.  You do not have attend them.”  Especially since that would involve time travel!!!
  • “Rubbing your forehead against a cheese grater would be less painful than dealing with them.”
  • “I’m thinking we’ll have (support) do a reach out to our 4000 users.”  “I think that call is above your pay grade,” Blaine
  • “When are they going to get this meeting started?” “When the other Mensa members show up.”  Blaine
  • “She needs to put down the crack pipe.”
  • “I’m confused – no, wait, I don’t care.”  Blaine
  • “Never before have so many, worked so hard, for so few, for so little.”  Blaine
  • “We are changing our staffing model…” Manager A – introducing a new way to say “layoffs”
  • “Today was a total waste of makeup,”
  • “I feel uncomfortable when things are normal.”
  • “There’s no accounting for psychotic…”
  • “…they’re not being laid off, they’re being co-sourced…”
  • “It’s all about the group grope…everyone has to have their say on everything.”
  • “They don’t need Quickr…they need Smarter.” Blaine
  • “Okay, who put the crazy juice in the NJ water supply this morning?”
  • “I’m sorry I’m late, I had a different idea in my head,”
  • “I would have been on the call but we’ve had a lot of rain lately.”
  • “It’s hard to picture her being happy without a bloody body at her feet.”  Blaine
  • “That will make the monkey jump…” “We’re making monkey’s jump?”
  • “Sixty-seven-percent of New Yorkers are depressed because the light at the end of the tunnel is Jersey”.
  • “She didn’t fall from grace – she jumped from grace.”  Blaine
  • “Let me check, you may be on the failure list.”  “We have a failure list?  It must be long.”  Blaine
  • “There’s busy, then there’s Don Busy.”  Don’s opinion of how much he’s working
  • “He’s a random force of nature. Like a fart in the wind.”
  • “We need one throat to choke.”  One of our illustrious leaders giving us another inspiring one-liner.
  • “It’s a horse in the back and a cow in the front.”
  • “What can you tell us that isn’t public knowledge?”
  • “We don’t have People First, we have People Strange.”  Blaine
  • “Apparently outside of work, I’m some sort of genius.”  Blaine
  • “A kick under the table can be an effective management tool.”
  • “We need to have a big pow wow in the wigwam.”  “That seems like it is insulting to some folks.”
  • “I feel like a kid that’s been thrown into the deep end without any floaters”
  • “Looks like they may have to dust off her coffin…”
  • “He’s not lying, he’s being economical with the truth…”
  • “I could pull of the Miracle on the Hudson and still not get a promotion.”
  • “Why is he on the call?”  “I told him this project was a shit-show.”
  • “Ideation?  Oh please…it’s more like flatulation!”
  • “Don’t let the angry thoughts in my head come out of my mouth as words.”

Please feel free to share this with your friends – or enemies/coworkers.

Review of Mindhunter Season Two on Netflix

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One of the cooler scenes this season 

When we left off in season one, Agent Holden was having a panic/anxiety attack.  It was a compelling cliffhanger, that much was for sure.  What we saw was how much the serial killers he was interviewing had managed to get into his head.

Season two picks up soon thereafter.  The cause of Holden’s second anxiety incident is a stunner that made the entire episode for me. Where the first season focused on Holden, this was more about Agent Tench and the issues he is facing. The shift of character was a good one and artfully executed.  Bill has problems, his son becomes entangled in the murder of a young boy, a crime that tears at his family past the point of breaking.

Things have changed for the entire team.  Their boss was fired and replaced with someone that solidly backs the unit and sees the value of it.  Intertwined in this is their ongoing interviews with serial killers, the BTK case, and the case that makes the unit finally accepted – The Atlanta Child Killer.

The beginning of most of the episodes drops little hints of a serial killer, BTK.  The unit is digging into this case but getting nowhere.  That’s okay, we all know it will take years to bring this one to conclusion.

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We haven’t seen the end of this…

The character that is shorted in this is Dr. Wendy Carr.  We explore her lifestyle and the conflicts she has between what people say and what is real.  Unfortunately the way this season is structured, we miss the chemistry of the three main characters throughout.  While Holden and Tench are working the Atlanta Child Killer cases, she is more or less sidelined.

For me, there were two serial killer interviews that popped.  One was with the Son of Sam, the other was with Charles Manson.  I don’t ruin this for you, but they are not only well written, but excellently cast.  The Berkowitz character comes across as so close to reality, you wonder if they are interviewing the real killer.  Manson comes across as very authentic to interviews I’ve seen.  Kudos to the folks in casting.

There was a lot of accuracy to the entire Atlanta Child Killer case which was both disturbing and compelling. It does not portray the Atlanta PD in a positive light.

What makes this series sizzle for me is the settings and props from the early 1980’s.  As someone who lived in that era, it is pretty dead-on accurate.

I enjoyed this season a great deal, but miss the trio of key characters working together.  Now we have to wait for Netflix to get around to working on season three.  A solid five out of five stars.

Review of The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert Massie

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When I was a kid my mom took me to see the movie Nicholas and Alexandra at the Bijou Theater in Battle Creek, MI.  She knew my love of history and the story fascinated her, especially Rasputin and Anastasia.  At the end of the movie she covered my eyes when the royal family was shot.  For some reason that has always stuck in my head.

Robert Massie is, well, a giant in terms of historical writers.  I actually wore out my copy of Castles of Steel, it is that good. This book falls somewhere between a history book and a true crime saga.  After all, the Romanov family was never tried for crimes, they were brutally murdered.  When I saw this book on my Amazon feed, I knew I had to pick it up.

It starts with the crime itself, which pulls you in.  The strange, if not bizarre treatment of the bodies was compelling as well.  Massie is masterful at giving you the historical context that is do desperately needed to understand the events.

Slowly what emerges is how the bodies were eventually found and recovered, and the impact of the Cold War and petty academics that played a part in identifying the remains.  This was a story that the public knew very little about.

Suddenly the book takes a hard turn into the rumors of the survivors, namely Anastasia.  I was surprised to learn that one woman claiming to be the princess lived out her years near me, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The courtroom battles over her DNA were long, but entirely necessary.  Having read Massie’s other books, I knew that he was taking me as a reader on a long journey – and that parts of it were convoluted.  I was surprised that there were so many members of the Romanov family that were spared the violence of the Red Revolution.

As a true crime book, this is pretty intriguing to read but you may find the parts on “Anastasia” lacking, since it feels her only crime was lying about who she was.  As a history book, it is outstanding.  This book is solidly researched and well worth picking up.  Five out of five stars.

Now I need to go to the Netflix series, The Last Czars.  Curse you Robert Massie – you are making me explore this more.

The 30th Anniversary of the Last of the Colonial Parkway Murders

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The roach clip hanging in Daniel Lauer’s car

As a cold case true crime author you become emotionally invested in your work.  If you are going to do your job right, you have it.  Sometimes that connection is with investigators, other times it is with family members of the victims. You have no control over where those connections are going to come from, in many respects, you are along for the ride.

The first interview we did for the book was with Larry McCann, the Virginia State Police profiler who worked the case.  Victoria and I needed the big picture, a strategic perspective.  Larry was the guy to do that for us.  Larry taught me more about criminal profiling in four hours than I got from three textbooks on the subject.

Next came my interview with the brother and sister of Annamaria Phelps.  It was deeply moving, though I did my best to keep my poker face on.  The love and frustrations they had been forced to endure and lose was incredible.  They felt that the system had failed them…and it had.  The killer of their beloved sister has not been brought to justice yet.  Over the years they have been emotionally jerked around by investigators who flip-flopped on whether their sister’s case was tied to the Colonial Parkway Murders or not.  Despite tantalizing leads, there has not been an arrest.  For them, it tore them apart internally and brought them together spiritually.

If you think I didn’t get in the car after our interview and break down…you would be wrong.

The case is baffling and more complicated than it appears on the surface.  Labor Day weekend, 1989, Daniel Lauer went to visit his brother Clinton and Clinton’s girlfriend, Annamaria Phelps, at Virginia Beach.  He brought along three passengers, Joe Godsey, his wife, and their young daughter.  It promised to be a weekend of partying.  Unfortunately, it got out of hand – resulting in a large scale riot.

At the end of the weekend, Daniel had decided to move in with his brother and Annamaria.  The plan on that Sunday night was to drive back to their home in Amelia County, Virginia.  He would drop off the Godsey’s, grab his stuff, get paid by his father, then drive back.  Annamaria decided to come along.  Daniel would drop her off with her parents while he packed, then would pick her up and together they would drive back to join Clinton.

Everything seemed to go as planned. Annamaria saw her folks and Daniel picked her up for the drive back.  The last place they were seen by witnesses was in the east-bound rest area on I-64 in New Kent County.

The next morning, Daniel’s car was found in the west-bound rest area on the merge ramp, abandoned.  The glove box was opened and a roach clip hung from the driver’s side window which was partially lowered.  The keys were in the vehicle, as if someone was staging the car for theft.

Authorities mounted a search but found nothing.  It would be six weeks later when their bodies were found by turkey hunters just a mile from where Daniel’s car had been found.  It would take experts from the Smithsonian to help the Virginia State Police to try and piece together what happened.  All they could say for sure is that Annamaria had been cut by a knife on one of her fingers.  There was no way to ascertain the cause of death.  All we know for sure is that Annamaria fought with her killer that night.

I’ve been to the site a few times and it remains pretty much as it looked back then.  Visiting the Crime Scene In talking with investigators that were on the scene at the time, we are convinced of one thing – the killer had stalked the site out in advance, or at least had familiarity with it.  Otherwise getting back there and out again would have been a challenge.

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The logging road.  The victims were found just off it, just around the bend to the left. 

This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of their deaths.  When you write true crime, the key dates stick with you.  I cringe in August because it marks the bombing/murder in Marshall I wrote about and the murder of Maggie Hume in Battle Creek, MI.  January always makes me think of Daisy Zick and her death.  Labor Day, that is reserved for Annamaria and Daniel.  In my mind I replay everything.  How did their car end up on the other side of the highway? Why did the killer target them?  What happened in those dark woods?  What clues were lost because the police did not do an effective search?  Why did the killer stop after this pair of victims?  How did the killer get control of them?  Why didn’t someone see something on that holiday weekend?

We have new techniques and technologies that can help crack the cases…but is time running out?  No.  I don’t believe that, not for an instant.  The moment you go down that road, you only find despair.

Even today, when I drive to Williamsburg I make myself stop at the refurbished rest area – the last place they were seen.  I take a minute or two and look around and think of what happened thirty years ago at that site.  A great deal has changed, but not the mystery, and not the sense that more could and should have been done at the time.

Review of The Boys on Amazon Prime

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“You are not the hero of this story…” 

I have been collecting and reading comic books for well over four decades. I’m no expert in the genre, I just know what I like, and that changes a lot over time.

When I saw The Boys advertised on Prime I thought I’d give it a shot.  It starts out simple enough.  The world has superheroes.  They are owned/controlled by a corporation.  They are big business – from reality shows to product endorsements.  The best known group, The Seven, seem squeaky clean.

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You should never meet your heroes…especially if it is one of these guys

That was the first ten minutes or so.  After that, you see things take a hard left into the bizarre.

Then you see one of the heroes kill a young girl – picture the Flash running through someone standing still.  Of course the crime is covered up.  Then you learn that there is a group out there that is out to pay back the supers for their heinous and wanton acts of death and destruction.

Bit by bit in the series you learn that nothing is what you thought it was.  The supers origins are not as American as apple pie as everyone is led to believe.  There are drugs that the supers take…and these drugs have a big role in this.

The Seven are not quite what they seem.  The group that is out “spanking” the supers become darker and more twisted.  Starlight, the newest member of the Seven learns not only the truth about the corporation calling the shots, but about her own origin.  You see the rise of super villains whose origins are a bit predictable but still cool.  You find yourself rooting for people that are into some pretty grim shit, but you cannot help it.

I loved it.

Let me say, this is a dark series.  It is a story where the true heroes are blurred and often confused.  There is blood, gore and sex – don’t let little kids watch this.  It is gritty, edgy, and engaging.  It helped fill that gap after Avengers Endgame and left me wanting more.  Sure, it’s another “evil corporation” combining with “corrupt politicians” but the messages here are more on a personal level.  It pushes you into areas of discomfort and does it often in the eight episodes. Karl Urban as Butcher is diabolical and by the end of the season, a sad person that you find yourself pitying. The character of Hughie goes on an amazing journey and development arc.

It’s gross and cool and twisted.

The writing for this series is off the charts.  The writers never get enough praise but the guys that did this.

And, more importantly, it has been renewed for a second season.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 33 – Bats in the Belfry

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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!

Brandon…

Theren returned to the Great Gash and Arius caught him up on the turn of events and our mission to try and find Lexa Lyoncroft.  Theren wisely requested a letter of mark from the church to assure her they would not prosecute her.  I was doubtful that a letter alone would convince her, but it couldn’t hurt to have it. I had a companion wolf that I had adopted and found it oddly comforting to sit and pet it.

The last place Lyoncroft had been seen was my village, Buchola.  I was the last of our party to have seen her.  For me, this was joyous.  I would be returning home, wiser and stronger than before.  No doubt they would view me as a hero. I wasn’t expecting a parade or anything, but possibly someone picking up the first round.

Of course, I had been secretly summoned to the High Council of Rangers.  Somehow I needed to make sure that I honored that request.  Such summons were rare and I was a little concerned about the implications.

We were all shocked when Dimitrious came before us on the morning of our departure and said he would be leaving.  The fact he spoke at all stunned me.  “My part in these is done, for now.  I have set you on your path.  I will see you near the end.”  When Athalus asked, “How will we know where to find you?” the normally mute monk smiled. “Look to the blue light.  When you see it, you will know it is me.”  We all thanked him.  “I owe you my life,” Athalus commented.  “I know,” he replied.

I informed my comrades of my summons to the Rangersmeet at Villineau and we agreed, since it was on the way, we would go there first.  There were a lot of questions as to why I had been summoned, none of which I could answer. With a late fall chill in the air we set out.

The second night out, an old friend of mine, Drake, stumbled into the camp.  Drake was a miller from my home town, though I honestly did not recognize him.  Althalus used his magic to light up the night.  Drake told us that everyone had fled Buchola.  Someone came to town and the locals left. The mysterious man was tall with black hair.  When locals disappeared and “bad things happened,” Drake and the others had started to leave.  He spoke of nightmares and terrors that forced people to leave.  This sounded fairly dire.  What could have invaded my home?  The stranger, we learned, had been asking about Lexa Lyoncroft as well.

Drake bedded in our camp that night and went on his way.  The next day we noticed that there were some bats that were hovering over us. That was disturbing.  Bats in the daylight were a rarity.  I could not help but get the sense that they were following us.  But for who?

Four more days out I came across an unusual number of wolf tracks in our path. Pack wolves usually do not leave this number of tracks.  That night, we were approached by the very pack of wolves we had seen the tracks of.  Theren spoke to them and they only knew one word – “dinner.”  That did not bear well for us.  We could hear them snarling all around our camp.  Althalus cast a ball of fire, just to light the area up.  We were facing a large number of them.

Theren transformed into a dire wolf and pounced on their alpha before the pack could strike – unleashing the fury of the wolves around us.  A melee broke out, both magical and with cold steel.  Magical blasts flashed in the night and the stench of burned fur mingled with the sting of sweat as I sprung into the chaos of the battle.  One clung onto Arius’s throat, splattering blood into the night as he tried to shake it off.  When another leapt at him, Skullringer ripped its head off, hitting Theren with it from behind with a dull thud.  Somehow, on his backswing with the magic weapon, he let go of the warhammer, losing it in the thick grass of the plains.

A swirling cloud of magical daggers began to julienne two of the wolves, throwing fur and blood into the air with wild abandon.  Theren killed the alpha, devouring its flesh in the process.  My own magic sword, Nightstalker, cut two of the beasts deeply.  Arius threw his razor-edged shield, burying it deep in the hide of one of our foes.

My pet wolf tore into one of the wild ones attacking us, making it yip in pain.  From where Arius swung the shield, his thunderous smite blew up one of the wolves – raining blood and a bit of intestines all over Althalus who scowled back at the paladin for the gore he was drenched in. It was Theren that ended the fight, savaging the last wolf in his bloody jaws.

We were exhausted and collapsed for the night.  The next day we came to the edge of the forest with a structure poised at the edge of the growth.  While I had never been to Villineau, I somehow was sure this was it.  The building was three stories tall, smooth, almost polished wood, to the point where it blended in with the surrounding forest.  There were shapes in the wood that you could only see as you got closer, animals and other creatures of the forest preserved in the wood – not carved, almost as if the wood itself had grown in those shapes.

We were approached by the guards from the balcony over the front doors.  “It is I, Brandon Winderford. I was summoned to the Rangersmet.”  After a moment of muttering, the two massive doors opened.

The interior was incredible, almost like a plush inn of some sort.  Other carved shapes seemed to be part of the walls.  I was greeted and my friends were shown rooms while I was ushered before the High Council of Rangers on the second floor.

I was brought into a massive circular room.  I knew the man sitting in the high seat, Sylvester of Bold.  There were six other rangers, men and women, human and elf, seated above me.

“We’ve heard some disturbing reports. Word is that you have found Tempora.  Is that true?”

“It is.”

“Do you have a map of how to reach it?”

“My friend do.”

“Do you have instructions on how to reach the interior?  We have sent parties there before and have never had any luck in finding the city.”

“I do,” I replied in confidence.

“That information is useful to us.  We have heard disturbing reports to the south, that the dead have risen out of the Great Gash.”

“That is true.  And we have encountered Viktor Barristen as well.”

That stirred them.  They asked me about how I ended up there, and I told them about Lexa Lyoncroft.  That got a lot of looks from the other rangers.

“We’ve heard a number of disturbing reports about this Lyoncroft woman.  She is said to be rekindling the Sisterhood of the Swords – training new adepts.  If that is true, it represents a new faction in the realm.”

That of course was news to me, useful news I might add.  “Barristen had another sister with him – Cyrilla Drex.  I killed her in Tempora.”

Sylvester’s eyes narrowed.  “You – a fledgling ranger killed one of the Mother Superiors of the Sisterhood of the Sword?”

“I did,” I said proudly.  “With my friends.”  I told them how I plunged my sword into her heart.  There were nods from the gathered rangers.

“What happened to her sword?”

I told them that Barristen had paladins trapped in the sword and that he had taken it back from us.  That made Sylvester’s brow furrow in deep thought.

“We had heard rumors that he was in the Cloud Lands – perhaps raising an army.  This is most troubling.  You, Brandon, are to be our eyes and ears.  Remember, rangers do not take part in setting the affairs of men.  We are guides, not shapers of our world.  We bring harmony between nature and the footfalls of mortals.”

“With all due respect, we cannot sit by.  We need to call the rangers, assemble, address this matter, assist the realms,” I stated firmly.

“Assist in what?” Sylvester asked. “We do not know where Barristen is.  We don’t know where Lyoncroft is or where her loyalties lie.”

“My companions and I seek her out.”

“Where?”

“My village.  We heard it has been taken over by a man.  It was the last place we saw her.”

“Very well.  It is risky – but we will allow it.  You will need to keep us abreast of your progress.  These men you travel with, some seem, dare I say, shady?  Keep these words secret between us.  You are bound by the Ranger’s Code, remember that.”

I was dismissed to our bed chambers.  I made a copy of our map and filled in my compatriots with what I could.  It was odd sleeping indoors in nice quarters.  As much as I wanted to tell them the truth…I could not.  As much as possible I simply avoided their question.

Althalus moved his hands in front of his eyes, staring at me.  Curse his magic! I felt him probing my thoughts.  That accursed warlock was toying with my mind. I managed to block his attempt to probe me and did not appreciate the attempt.

It took hours to copy the materials and after that I collapsed into a much-needed sleep.  The next day we rose and set off for Buchola, my home town.  We traveled a day and night with nothing out of the ordinary.  The next day, just after midday, we saw dust rising on the trail ahead of us.  We saw a wagon drawn by two horses, laden with goods.  Riding atop the buckboard was an older man and woman.  Arius approached them and they said they were from Buchola.

The old man knew me as I stepped out.  Anger flashed across his face, painting it crimson.  The barkeep of the Winged Pegasus, the tavern in town.  He jabbed his bony finger in my direction.

“This is all your fault Brandon.  He came two fortnights ago, said his name was Savitar.  Of course we invited him in.  He was looking for that woman you spoke to, the one that paid you.

“We told him she had sent you with a message and that she had disappeared.  He wanted to know when you would return.  We told him we didn’t know.

“It all seemed innocent enough.  He was invited in at the keep, said he’d pay gold for a room there.  It made sense.  But Armix and his daughter Vella haven’t been seen since.  Others went missing later.  After that the clouds seemed to blot out the sun.  Then came those dogs, those two-headed beasts.  Some of our friends went missing.  Everything around the keep seemed to die off after he took up residence there.  I closed up the Winged Pegasus and left…as did most of the village. It just didn’t feel safe there any longer.

“This is your fault!  If you had not become friendly with that woman, none of this would have happened. Our entire village has been abandoned.”  His daughter looked as if she were prepared to spit on me.

“This is awesome,” muttered Althalus.  “It’s not me this time.”

I sneered at him.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for anything bad to happy.”

“If you hadn’t been messing with that witch with a sword, none of this would have happened.”

“I promise you that we will—“

“We don’t want your promises.  You caused this.  The entire town blames you for this.”  So evaporated my thoughts of a parade upon my return.

Arius stepped up, chest puffed up in perfect paladin form.  “We are going to the village and set these matters right.”

Disgusted with us, he slapped the reins on the horses and took off.

“That went well,” Althalus said.  “Bad things happen to people all of the time.”

Theren nodded.  “I’m a druid.  You don’t have to tell me.”

“We need to right this wrong,” I said, trying to get them focused on the problem.  “I’ll go in alone. He wants me.  I will size him up.”

“I think this is a great plan,” Althalus said.

“No, it’s not,” Arius said.  “We all go.”

 

The next morning we arrived at my home town.  It was eerily silent…not even birds were chirping.  It was cloudy, but the center of town seemed even darker.  The trees rustled in the wind, but that was all we heard.  No smokes from hearths rose in the air.

Buchola had a low wall for defense that surrounded the town.  It had not been used for centuries and was moss covered.  The keep, in the center of the town, had always been covered with moss and vines.  Buchola was a town of peace…until now.

We entered town cautiously.  Everything we saw made us nervous…especially me, this was my home. There were some strange tracks, dog-like, but heavier than even a dire wolf.  It did not help ease our fears.

As we got near the keep we could see that this was the epicenter of strangeness.  The vines and moss that covered it were dead and withered.  The trees around it were dead, withered, their dead leaves littering the brown grass.  The cloud cover over the keep was complete, it was almost a twilight appearance. There was a low fog over the dips in the ground, even mid-morning. Everything that had life was dead around the structure.

“This seems uncomfortable,” Althalus said, always the master of understatement.

Arius walked up to the door of the keep opened the door, the paladin rarely showed fear when he should. I was surprised, I thought he might knock.  Arrogance is clearly a paladin’s strength.

A black haired man in nobles clothing stood in the doorway.  “Hello, what are you doing here?” Oddly enough, he seemed friendly.

“We are passing through.  Things seem…out of sorts.  What happened here?  Why are you here?”

The man flashed a grin and ignored one of our queries.  “I am here…waiting for someone.  Why don’t you come in?  We can have some wine and talk.”

I knew this was a bad idea, even my wolf companion seemed to sense it. “Who are you looking for?”

“Lexa Lyoncroft,” he said. “Have you heard of her?”

“Yes,” Arius replied.  “We know she had been here.  Why don’t you come out here?”

“I am not well,” he said.  “It is best I stay here.”

Arius suddenly grappled with him, tossing him on the ground.  “What are you doing?  Why are you showing me such disrespect?”  He rose and returned to the doorway, brushing off his shoulders.

“We seek Lexa Lyoncroft as well,” the paladin said.

The man, unshaken, grinned again.  “If you do not wish to come in, I wish you well out here tonight. Otherwise, come in and talk.  My invitation remained.”  I didn’t like the sound of that either.

Arius led us in.  The keep’s window shutters were closed and the interior was dimly lit by sconces on the walls.  A carpet covered the floor.  We saw a desk, but walls obscured the other rooms.  Althalus surprised us all with his next words, “I would like to apologize for our behavior.  We were wrong to have attacked you.”

“I accept your words,” the man said.

I reached down and pulled my sword out slightly.  It shimmered brilliant blue.  Undead. Arius saw it too and nodded once.

“I am Brandon,” he said.

“I am Savitar.  So you are Brandon,” he took a step closer.  “I understand you worked for Lyoncroft.  Where is she?”  His eyes fell into my own.  I could feel his thoughts.  I found him oddly appealing, friendly.  I was no longer in control of my words.  “These men had met Lyoncroft before.  They never said where they met her.” I felt like I was in a daze, surprised that I was sharing that information with him.

“Some wine perhaps?” the man offered.  I found myself accepting.

“I have an offer for her,” he said as he poured.  “A warrior of her prowess would be of use to the man I work for?”

“Who is that?” Theren asked.

“His name isn’t important – he goes by so many.  What is important is that I find this Lyoncroft woman.  Perhaps if you stay here, she will return.  You could be my guests.”

“What makes you think she will come back here?” the druid pushed.

“A hunch,” he replied, not sipping his own wine.  “You should stay here.  Sooner or later she is bound to show up.”

“Um, no thanks,” Arius said. “We will go to the Winged Pegasus for the night.”

I found myself talking, not controlling my own words.  “I think we should stay here with him.” Why did I say that?

“Very well, Brandon can stay here with us for the night.”

Arius glared at me.  “We changed our minds, we will stay here tonight as well.”

The man clapped his hands and a girl emerged from one of the rooms.  Her skin was waxen, her eyes seemed wide open, unblinking.  “Why don’t you take our guests to the second floor?  They can bed there for the night.”

She led us up the central staircases to the second floor of the keep.  There were barrels there, stores of some sort.  There was a rug on the floor in one spot, some old broken furniture, most of it broken.  Two old rope beds were there as well, covered in dust.

“I don’t like this,” Althalus said.  I felt oddly calm about the situation.  The man didn’t seem at all like a threat, in fact, he seemed to be more like a trusted friend to me.  Theren looked at me and waved his hands in front of me.  It was as if I had awakened and the last few minutes had been a dream, one I had been living. “What happened?”

“You were under a spell, probably a charm,” Althalus said. “Instagramus Influencus…fairly common.”  I hated that feeling.  It made me betray my friends.

We moved about to settle down for the night, knowing that the man on the floor below us was devious.  I went over by the barrels to check and another figure rose, springing at me.  His teeth flashed with fangs and his skin was pale.  I recognized him, Armix. “Armix – it’s me, Brandon.”

He didn’t respond other than springing at me.  I drew Nightstalker and the room lit up blue-white.  I turned the blade to hit him with the flat edge of the sword.  I struck him and he hissed at me in response.

“Oh crap,” Althalus said, “It’s vampire spawn.  I’ve read about them!”  He dropped to a battle stance.

The rest of my friends converged on Armix to help me. The battle broke out around me – I cut him with Nightstalker, but despite the cut, he came at me viciously.  Flames roared around him as Theren cast a spell.  It did not seem to daze Armix as he dropped his blade and lunged me with fangs and clawed hands.  This was not my friend, this was a creature from hell.

Armix shook his head, as if voices were there, and tried to put distance from us for a few moments.

I swung Bonebreaker and Nightstalker at the creature, barely scratching him.  Out of the corner of my eyes the man from the floor below, Savitar, came out of the staircase, now with pointed fangs flashing.  Theren swung his quarterstaff, burying it into the face of Savitar.  It only seemed to make him madder.

The battle became a blur.  Our weapons and spells tore into the pair of undead, yet they seemed to recover from each attack. My wolf sprung at Armix, biting him, tearing at his pale flesh, but it tore into it with its claws and bit it in the throat.  My companion animal was tossed aside like a doll discarded by a mad child, leaving a bloody smear on the floor.

Theren shapeshifted into a bear, savaging one of the spawn.  Althalus blasted away with his eldritch blasts, emerald green energy knocking Savitar back, only to ensnare him in a tangle of thorns that Arius had cast.  The vampire tore through the vines as if they were not there at all. The girl we had seen below came up the stairs, pouncing on Theren.  The bloody bear grappled with Savitar, though it only bought us a few moments.

Althalus produced the wand that fired lightning bolts we had discovered and unleashed it one of the spawn.  The brilliant blast of white energy cracked across the keep, blasting into the spawn, leaving a smoking hole where its clothing had been charred by the assault.

Nightstalker shimmered in my sweaty grip as we pressed our assault, my hunter’s mark guiding every swing I made.  Savitar disappeared into a floating gas cloud while the girl bit Theren’s bear in the shoulder.  Everything was a jumble arms, legs, weapons and blood as our party flailed away at the undead creatures. Althalus unleashed thunderous smite on Armix – rending flesh from him and leaving him as dead…as dead as any vampire can be. Althalus missed with an eldritch blast, hitting Theren instead.  The bear snapped its head around and growled, understandably.

Savitar rematerialized from a gaseous form, seemingly just as strong as ever. I remembered stories that vampires could regenerate, now I was living it!  Arius’ smite threw the girl into Theren, knocking her prone for a few seconds. Bonebreaker and Nightstalker shimmered bright as I tore into Savitar, but no matter how much I hit him, it did not seem to take him down. In the fury of my attack, I hit myself with Bonebreaker in the head. Everything went dark and I barely remember hitting the floor.

I came to with my head throbbing, staggering to my feet as if I had been drinking. We were still in the fight! Theren was in human form, swinging his shillelagh at Savitar, furrowing his chin with a blow. The girl spawn was badly battered – smoke rising from some attack I had not seen. I don’t know what Althalus was doing, but Savitar seemed to struggle with something in his head, snarling, showing his pointy fangs. Arius hit her in the gut with Skullringer. Savitar struggled with the spell that our warlock was unleashing…which we were all thankful for.  He collided with the wall, seeming to injure himself.

Arius hit himself with Skullringer, doing what I had done with Bonebreaker – leaving the paladin sprawled on the wooden floor, moaning into unconsciousness.  The girl spawn dropped under our assault, sprawled dead on the floor.  We all concentrated on Savitar.  I swung Bonebreaker and again hit myself in the head.  I sort of remember hitting the floor with my face before I blacked out…again.

I have no idea how long I was out…but when I rose, Athalus was on the floor, but seeming to still cast magic from there. Sweat stung at my eyes as I lumbered towards the fight.  Arius was up, swinging his magical warhammer again, blood smearing his face and beard. I staggered forward…barely alive, but still in the battle.  Theren’s attack made Savitar hiss loudly, turn into a gas, and seep downward through the cracks in the floor.

“We won!” Theren said joyfully.

Althalus rose to his feet.  “Not so fast.  I have some knowledge of these creatures.  He must have a coffin filled with dirt somewhere nearby.  If he gets into that, he can regenerate.  We might have to face all of this all over again.  Worse yet, we only have about an hour to find it.” Those words were ominous.

Arius used his javelins, spiking the hearts of the two dead spawn – making them explode as he pierced their un-beating hearts. We immediately searched for the coffin and found it in the basement of the keep. His body was there, resting, already regenerating.

“Spike him,” Althalus said. Our paladin did it without remorse.

“Not good enough,” the warlock said.  “Cut off his head and take it out into the daylight. We don’t want him to have any chance of regenerating.”  Theren undertook the decapitation, leaving his head out in the open.

We were weary, but searched the rooms for any other threats. We discovered a map, of lands we had not seen, and three strange metal symbols.  Small, the size of a small horseshoe, they were clearly magical.  “I’ve seen those before,” Althalus said.  “Siva Runes.  You attach them to your weapons and they infuse the weapon with some magical abilities.”

“What kind of magic?”

Althalus shrugged.  “I don’t know that.”

I pocketed them.  For a moment we looked at each other, exhausted from the battle.  “You’re from here, right?” Arius asked.

I nodded in response.

“Where’s that Winged Pegasus tavern…I think we could all use a drink.”  Coming from our paladin, we all knew it was a good idea.

 

 

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

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

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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