Office Humor – The Business Trip – A True Story

Travel

In those wonderful days before 9-11, before United bought Continental, before full body scans – back when it took guts to travel.  This is a true story of a business trip gone bad. 

My flight to Washington Dulles (from luxurious Newark, New Jersey) was scheduled for 5:00pm so dutifully I got to the airport at 3:00pm. I had no idea why.  In the history of airports, no flight between Newark and Dulles, on a Friday afternoon, has ever flown within three hours of its designated time.  Showing up two hours early was simply a display of anal stupidity on my part.  Still, as a traveler, you harbor the hope that this might be the exception to the rule.  I heard there were weather delays due to fog, so I figured I might be able to catch the 3:00pm flight.  Experience has told me that all it takes is a car backfiring in a three state area to grind air traffic to a halt.  There’s a subtle art to navigating delay situations at Newark; one which I thought I’d mastered, but my experiences this particular Friday taught me I hadn’t.

I got my ticket for the 5:00pm flight and noticed that I was now on the 7:45pm flight.  That’s generally not a good sign…cancelling a flight and rescheduling me on another flight hours in advance.  I hoofed it down to C85 – at the extreme end of one of the three wings that make up concourse C.  I was determined to catch that 3:00pm Dulles flight(this was back in the days when you could simply switch flights before an upgrade fee.)  I had commitments, as did my wife, that required my physical body back home.

I saw the plane was there, jetway attached, jetway door opened.  The monitors showed it wasn’t even loading yet – in fact it wasn’t taking off for ten minutes.  Yes!  I asked the gate attendant, we’ll call her Jody for the sake of this story, if I can get on the flight.

“No sir, that flight already boarded,” this far-too-peppy Jody replied.

“I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s right there,” I pointed. I swear, the plane was there, door open, jetway still attached.  I could see the co-pilot chatting with the flight attendant.

“Sorry, we’ve closed out the flight.  It’s gone.  You can always catch the 5:00pm flight,” Jody replied.  Apparently the plane I saw wasn’t really there, some sort of new stealth technology that Continental was testing for the government.  Continental’s theory is that if you say it enough, it becomes reality…laws of physics be damned.

“No, I can’t.”

“Yes you can.”

“The 5:00pm flight is cancelled.  Listen I don’t want to argue or anything,” a lie, “but the plane door is still open.  You can key me in and I can get home.”

“Sorry sir, I can’t help you.”  Another lie.  It was her turn in the game we were playing. 

Lying was a competency that Continental displayed a lot this particular evening.  Yes, I had a fantasy moment of strangling Jody right then and there, but I let it pass.

So, my new flight was at C130 – the other far end of the extreme wing of the C concourse.  I slothed down there and had dinner.  Important tip here – never eat a burrito from a place advertising Hawaiian cuisine. I had time to kill, even if that was spent in a bathroom.  You know you are a pessimist when risk stomach cramping simply to kill time.  Thankfully I was spared the ordeal of time in the restroom.  I powered up my PC, did some work, read a book, worked on writing my new novel, killed time…I had a lot to kill.  Remember, don’t leave the gate area because information may change at any time.

At around 7:00pm, while at the gate, I noticed our 7:45pm flight was starting to move, not physically, but through time/space continuum..  Now it was 9:00pm flight – then five minutes later, it became a 9:33pm flight.  I cracked up.  Here’s an airline that can’t get you pinned down to what hour you’re leaving, somehow know you’re departing 33 minutes after the hour.  It was so precise it implied an intelligence I knew didn’t exist.  At that point I was still able to chuckle.  Anyway, it morphed into a 9:45pm flight a few minutes later.  Wow, that 12 minutes difference changed everything (read with extreme sarcasm)

At this point I was ready to switch to Washington National and fly there, catch a cab, and get to Dulles.  The board told me that the National flights were also being delayed due to a fog that frankly, didn’t look too bad outside.  Best to ride this one out. In the end this judgment call turned out to be the best choice.

At 10:20pm (for the record, our “on-time departure,” was still showing as 9:45pm), we got the word that we would be leaving at 11:00pm.  Now we were in the danger zone.  I went to the abandoned (at that time) Continental service desk and did some research.  The 9:00am flight to Dulles in the morning was already booked.  That meant if I flew on Saturday I was getting home sometime in the evening at this point. Options were dwindling.

At 11:12pm the word came down from Gary, a short red-sport-coated man of authority (that’s what the red coats mean, right?)  Our flight was cancelled.  “No problem.  We’re putting you on a flight to Reagan National airport.”  Swamped and alone, the other ticket agent working with Gary, seeing the angry mob, grabbed her purse and went home for the night.  Another agent working the gate, seeing his plight, abandoned him as well.  God bless the American work and customer satisfaction ethics.

I felt bad for Gary until I saw he couldn’t deal with the pressure, snapping at people, making up stuff as he went.  I began to see that the red jackets really didn’t mean much.  I think he stole his.

Okay, Gary couldn’t process everything at once.  Frankly he couldn’t process one thing at a time very well.  He finally cooked up a story that Continental would pay for the Washington Flyer bus service to take us to Dulles.  As a point of order, the Washington Flyer bus doesn’t run from National to Dulles – and hadn’t for months.  I pointed out this lie to him and told him that the luggage agent at National could issue us vouchers for cabs.  Suddenly, I became the “Gate Leader and Spokesperson for the Irritated Flyers,” a role I relished.  I think I deserve a red jacket, really. I wonder where Gary stole his from? Could I have one?

Gary struggled for 20 minutes processing one person for the next flight.  I staged a coup, rounded up all of the people, and we rush to the gate at the other end of the airport, leaving Gary dazed, confused, but happy we were leaving.  According to the monitors the National Flight was boarding at, yes, you guessed it, C-85 – the other end of the EWR universe and was going to board any minute.  I made a mental note; “next time steal a Cushman cart to help get there faster.”  This becomes important later on…

We got there en masse – sweaty- breathing hard, but still clinging to the hope we might actually fly.  Substantiating that hope we were all assigned seats.  There was a teeming and aromatic group already there.  I asked status and was told, by someone I’ll call, “Becky,” that, “the aircraft is here and we just finished fueling it.  We’re waiting on your crew and they’ll be here at 11:45pm.”

I point out to her that after midnight, jets cannot fly into Washington Reagan airport due to noise abatement restrictions. Yes, I’ve done this hop before, I know the rules. “Are we really going there tonight?”  I kept mentally telling myself that I didn’t want to go to that airport anyway.  “Most assuredly sir.” Her lie was cloaked in my belief that she didn’t know what noise abatement was.

At midnight, with no updates, I went to the counter along with a suite of bodyguards/other victims, ready to demand answers.  Now things started getting interesting. “We thought we had your plane but when we went down there, there wasn’t any aircraft there.  So now we’re waiting on your crew and an airplane.”

Blaine’s comment:  “So what were you putting fuel in a half an hour ago?”

Becky, “Huh?” She was a real Mensa Society member – this one.

“Never mind.”  Pardoe’s Law Number 227:  “Never get into a logic debate with an idiot.  It only gives you headaches.”

Five minutes passed and I think she realized that she was caught up in a lie because she seemed to want to get us out of there.  Suddenly Becky makes a furious phone call and announces, “Washington National passengers, your flight has been moved to Gate 103 (in the yet unexplored part of C-Concourse during this trip).  It departs in 15 minutes.  She’s a genius Becky.  This was a great way to get us out of there…another lie. I have no doubt she will go far in Continental.

We started to run, then I spotted it – our ride.  I commandeered a Cushman cart (those idiots should not have left it charging with the keys in it), and sped our way down to Gate 103 in caravan, (yes, I went with women and children first on the Cushman,) to find a ground crew sitting there eating their dinner, staring at us with confused expressions – confused because we (okay I) had obviously stolen the cart from somewhere in the terminal.  (My thoughts were simpler:  “I wouldn’t be eating with those fingers.”) Yes, there’s a plane here, I could see it out the window.  But no one has any idea why we’re there.  Heaven forbid that the staff there go off and get help.  As the duly elected spokesperson for the group, I take off and find, 20 minutes later, a red-coated man from Continental who taps the keyboard, then leaves without saying a word.  Ahh, this is the kind of service I would expect in, shall we say, a prison?  Or a Carnival Cruise ship?

Now at this point, we’re all tired, sweaty, cranky, and one woman has begun to paint her face with makeup as if she were stranded in the jungle.  I’m reminded of Lord of the Flies and realize by the time the next shift arrives, we’ll be in loincloths.  Two gentlemen (they owned suits) show up from Continental to assure us that there is indeed an aircraft outside (thank God it wasn’t a mirage), and that our crew is at Dulles, on the ground there.  They will be taking off in an hour or so and if they land, they’ll transfer to this aircraft, prep it, and we’ll take off for National – an airport you can’t fly into with a jet in the middle of the night.

Needless to say, this story wasn’t adding up.  They updated the departure to 1:45am, which was physically impossible given the flight time from Dulles to Newark (our current time was 1:10am).  I pointed this out to, we’ll call him, “Sparky,” who assured me that I didn’t understand the laws of physics as Continental airlines did.  I confirmed with Sparky at that point in time that the flight at Dulles was sitting on the ground, due to fog now at their end of the travel spectrum.  Our “on-time” departure was moved, by Sparky, to 2:00am.  I guess that was supposed to satisfy me. Oddly enough it didn’t.

After my carefully crafted lecture on the space time continuum from a kid that was younger than the pair of loafers I was wearing – I contacted our travel agency, the good old boys at American Express.  They wanted my emergency code, which I told them I was not going to dig out of my bag.  I couldn’t.  The guy next to me was dismantling his seat to make a spear.  Things were getting ugly.  In 10 seconds our Amex guy had my profile up.  “Options?”

“Not a lot.”  Train tomorrow, then a $100 cab ride to your car.  Estimated time home, 3:00pm.  Fly home at the whim of the idiot-brigade at Continental and I could be at my car at Dulles, at around 3:30pm.  I had family commitments, so I was feeling, well, screwed.

Solution – a rental car.  I told the guy at travel this, verbatim, “Dude, you have to get me home.  Get me a car that can do that.”

“I’m on it dude.”  I swear.  We called each other dude.  It was a very straight bonding moment in a night when nothing had gone right.

I took the monorail, which was down twenty-minutes for maintenance, to the Hertz rental car place. That trip normally would have frustrated me, but in reality, it was the smoothest part of my night since we were moving, albeit slowly.  I dashed into Hertz and standing there was, “Little Korean Hertz Guy”, keys in hand, paperwork ready, and sent me on my way, “You in spot 80 Mista Pardoe…you go now!”

The car – a brilliant orange, brand new Mustang, fully loaded – only missing a gun for signaling lane changes on the NJ portion of the turnpike.  A perfect completely non-discreet car when cruising at warp factor seven down the turnpike in the middle of the morning.  I’m sure no police will pay attention to me.  I would have been only slightly more conspicuous if I had a keg of beer and a stripper pole strapped to the roof.

You see a lot of strange things at rest stops on the turnpike system at 3:00am in the morning.  Who would have thought that a Maryland Rest Area was the kind of place to spawn amorous activity?  I have enough material for my next novel or two, tentatively titled, “Rest Area Romp.”  You know you’re in a Maryland rest area when you stop, get out, and a pair of naked butt cheeks slap up into the steamed up window a foot away from you. I can only wish that I was making this up.  That image is burned in my mind to this day.  Add in the rain, the damned fog, and countless police officers looking for suspicious vehicles – which an orange Mustang qualifies as, and you have the makings of a bad 1980’s movie.

To answer all of the obvious questions, I got to home at 6:30am Saturday, scaring the hell out of my wife who had almost given me up for dead.  Logistically, one tank of gas will do it; it takes three 20 ounce Diet Mountain Dews, a candy bar (Hersey’s) and a bag of Utz extra salty potato chips to travel at that hour with no sleep.  The cost was still significantly less than if I had gotten a hotel room at the airport Marriott.

I have long hoped over the years that when United and Continental merged that the characters at Newark Airport lost their jobs.  In reality, they probably were promoted.  While none of this could happen today with all of the airport security, I will always relish the thought of stealing and driving a Cushman cart of angry passengers around Newark.

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Some Humor – Things I Want Said or Done at My Funeral

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He he he.  

When you hit my age (55 ish) you start to realize a little bit about your own mortality.  I even wrote a book about my life’s knowledge for my grandson (The Life Book: A Grandfather’s Gift) Yes, I wrote a whole long list of funny stuff just as a means to plug a book.  So kill me…oh…

I don’t fear death at all, it is wasted effort.  I view my funeral as my last chance to make people smile – if only for a moment.  If not smile, then feel a bit uncomfortable.  I like thinking that only I could put the fun in funeral.  So here’s my list of things I want said or done at my funeral.  Feel free to pick any three after I’m gone:

One of the people in this room is responsible for Blaine’s death…you know who you are…

Blaine wanted all of you to know that he’s not funding a buffet dinner afterwards.  You get a show, not a meal.

He is gone to that place where all lost socks disappear to – the great beyond.

His final last words were, ‘The treasure is buried under the–”

The family insists he’s not really dead.  He is simply playing possum.

He asked that you all donate money in his name to the Society of Writer’s Faking Their Deaths.

The deceased has asked that the remainder of the eulogy be done in Klingon.

He wanted you all to know that his wife is cremating him to hide the evidence.

This is an awkward time to bring this up, but Blaine insisted that anyone attending pay a cover charge.

The irony is he is wearing a suit he never really liked.

His last words were, “I set the bomb to go off at–”

His final words were, “I intend to haunt one of you…you know who you are.”

He has asked that on his tombstone they carve, “I honestly expected this carved on a pyramid…”

He wanted me to say, “If you are thinking of dating my wife, I will come back you bastard!”

Mrs. Pardoe has asked that you not poke him to make sure this isn’t a practical joke. She has already checked.

His last wish was for a smoking hot body – and it looks like he’s going to get that.  Cremation is at noon tomorrow.

He wanted everyone to know that a life of avoiding manual labor actually paid off.

His last wish was that his ashes be shared with everyone attending today.  Your ziplock baggies of Blaine will be arriving in the next two weeks or so.

Blaine said that he came into this room with a ring on his left hand and he damn well better leave this room with it, or you’re all going to get frisked.

Mr. Pardoe laid out the agenda for this funeral prior to his death.  There will be a break in 10 minutes while the stripper poles are installed…

On his grave marker, he asked that the following be inscribed, “I thought there would be cookies…”

Blaine will be frozen in Carbonite and hanging on his wife’s wall after this ceremony, should any of you wish to come and visit him.

Mr. Pardoe has asked that his tombstone have the line, “The wireless service down here sucks,” added to it.

He has asked that none of you cry.  He passed on his katra to a good friend and will be returned to Mt. Selaya on Vulcan after this ceremony.

If you check under your seats, one of you will find an envelope with the name of Blaine’s killer in it.

Mr. Pardoe had just surfaced new information for a book on the Kennedy assassination, and now he is dead.  Make of that what you will.

The use of flash photography, holy water, and video footage has been expressly banned at the request of the deceased.

Mr. Pardoe wanted me to say that you should all take out your phones and unfriend him on Facebook and stop following him on Twitter.  He tweetith no more.

Blaine has asked to quote from The Lord of the Rings:  “”I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

(Have the funeral director look at my body).  Did anyone else see his arm move?

Blaine wanted all of you to know that this is all a grave mistake.

He has asked that his tombstone be inscribed with the words, “This is what happens when you finally win an argument with your wife.”

Today’s eulogy will be followed with a viewing of Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, Director’s Cut, with Commentary – Blaine’s parting gift to you all. “You’re welcome!”

He asked that his leadership team from his office in New Jersey act as pall bearers so that they could let him down one more time.

Blaine asked for one more joke.  (Close the coffin lid)  It begins, “Knock Knock…”

I would continue on with this eulogy, but he indicated that by now, most of you would be bored and wondering if there was an open bar afterwards, so let me wrap this up.

Blaine has asked that the following be inscribed on his tombstone, “It is a lot darker and hotter down here than I expected.”

(Put a cell phone in my pocket on speaker and call it during the prayer).  Someone leave a message, “Hi Blaine – oh, there you are!  I was just leaving you a message…” then hang up.

Blaine would like to say that drinks afterwards are half-price for the ladies.

Blaine asked that those of you who borrowed his tools over the years, please return them to his wife.

The family wants everyone here to know that this final request, a 21 gun salute, cannot be fulfilled because he asked that it be done with tanks, live ammunition, and that the US Capitol be downrange.

Mrs. Pardoe wants everyone to know that Blaine will be buried with an air compressor, the worst Christmas gift he ever gave her.

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Blaine’s last words were, “Hold this beer and watch this…”

I was just informed prior to this eulogy that it has already received at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and is already up for a Golden Globe Award.

The music you hear playing in the background was chosen specifically by Blaine.  His co-workers will recognize it as the waiting music for conference calls.  It is his last bit of revenge for all of those times you showed up late for calls and he had to listen to this muzac.

He wanted all of you to know his final confession, it was not the dog that was farting all of those years.  Sorry Maya.
Blaine’s life was cut far too short by a Highlander driving a sword through him…there can only be one.

Mr. Pardoe never was a believer in organized religion, but just in case, we will be replaying his funeral as a Jewish and Muslim ceremonies at 3 and 5 respectively this afternoon – just to hedge his bets.

He has asked that the following be carved on his grave marker: “A Life Well Lived – Unfortunately There Will Be No Sequel.”

The family wants you to know that he has asked to be buried wearing flame retardant underwear.  Read into that whatever you will about his final resting place.

Blaine asked that he be buried in a Starfleet uniform but, as you can clearly see, his wife got in the last word on that…though she has assured me it too will be burned in a separate ceremony later this afternoon at their house.

His only regret is the Steve still hasn’t finished work on the patio in the back yard.

He has asked that on his grave marker, the words, “You’re standing on my crotch.”

Blaine asked that a set of his red gaming dice be buried with him, “Because those bastards never failed to let me down.”

He would like to point out that even with him being dead, this eulogy is better than The Last Jedi.

Blaine wanted me to tell you all the following:  This is merely the next phase of his evil plan unfolding exactly as he planned.  You’ve been warned.  Mwah hah ha ha.

funeral

I want the following songs played as background music, just to make everyone uncomfortable or make them smile:

  • Celebration – Kool and the Gang
  • Wake me up before you go-go – Wham
  • Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees
  • Another one bites the dust – Queen
  • Highway to Hell – AC/DC

While you all may have a good time at this show, Mr. Pardoe wants to remind you, “You may be next!”

Blaine wanted me to say this to all of you.  “I’ve written about a lot of true crime cold cases.  This may look accidental, but I insist you do an autopsy to be sure.”

Just to upset the visitors, I want a replica Viking longboat parked out in front of the funeral home, along with a row of archers.

I want one of my friends to lean over my open coffin and say, “Hey, he came in here with a watch!”  Then look over the visitors with a slow accusatory glare.

Please have the entire back row of eulogy filled with people wearing clowns.  Don’t say anything as to why they are there.  I just want to freak people out.

A line of Irish folk dancers that appear (complete with Riverdance music) mid-eulogy and tap dance across the front of the room unannounced would confuse and daze those in attendance.  Please arrange.

Put seven or eight shovels along the wall.  If anyone asks, “Well, to save money, Blaine is going to ask for volunteers to dig his grave.  Say, you look like you’re in good shape…”

To any BattleTech fans, Blaine wanted me to say the following, “It’s all true – the Star League, the Clans, everything!”

New Book Available – The Life Book – A Grandfather’s Gift

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Just to be clear, I am not getting soft in my old age.  I am as grizzled and stubbornly determined as ever – more so now that Victoria and I are delving into a new string of unsolved cold cases.

When I crossed into my fifth decade of life, I started to come to the grim realization that I could just drop dead at any moment. Seriously.  The sheer amount of Diet Mountain Dew in my system at any given moment defies the medical community. Death can come randomly or be long and dragged out. I personally hope mine is somewhat spectacular, involving an epic last stand or bringing a heinous criminal to justice, but we don’t get much of a choice do we?

As a sidebar, I have instructions with my wife that if that happens at home, drag me down to my work PC and take a photo so that she can claim that my employer caused my demise.  Not lying one bit here.  It is worth her strain on her part for the extra insurance money having me die at work…trust me. If she calls you to help drag my body to my office, just come over and help.  No questions need be asked.

I’m not preoccupied with death or anything.  I have written about death many times in my author-career.  In my sci-fi novels I have covered the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands.  In true crime I have stared at autopsy photos and interviewed people about horrific demises.  Death doesn’t frighten me. What is scary to me is that the knowledge and wit I have accumulated over a lifetime will simply disappear.  That seems like a terrible waste.

My kids are grown up and pretty smart.  Well, mostly smart.  We all have our moments, don’t we?  For the most part they have mastered life quite well.  My son is a successful stylist/entrepreneur and my daughter is a nurse/mother/NYT Bestselling author.  There’s not a lot left that I can teach them. We are now at a point where they are teaching me things.

My grandson has not mastered life yet.  He’s just a little guy and the thought of not passing on what I know to him was depressing.  So I started to write it down, everything.  Each tiny tip and hint I could think of to help him through life. I don’t know why, but it seemed like a great idea at the time.  Little did I realize it would take five years.

Thus The Life Book – A Grandfather’s Gift, was born.

I will admit, some of the content is snarky, all of it is candid, and some of it is funny.  I wanted to give him a guidebook to life itself, an instruction manual.  It was intended originally to be just between us – a gift from me to him.

I started talking to some of my friends and others have thought about this idea, but no one seems to have the time to do it.  Part if that is none of us like coping with our own mortality. I am quite content to undertake that retrospective.  Life is hard enough. Why not make it easier for others?

I will grant you, it’s not the usual book I write.  I have never considered myself locked into authoring in one genre.  Sci-Fi, military history, true crime, business management, horror…yes, I have done them all.  So now I can add spiritual/self-help to the list.

Here’s some sample nuggets:

  • Your two greatest enemies in life are impatience and self-doubt. The best part is, you have complete control over both of these monsters.
  • When someone is stroking your ego the most is when they can be trusted the least.
  • Success is its own punishment. I have learned that once I demonstrated that I was good at something, people expected me to do more of that thing.
  • Idiots swarm. They are attracted to other idiots like moths to a flame. It’s almost like they have their own form of gravity. As such, all gatherings are subject to suspicion of being filled with idiots. As a corollary:  Never underestimate the power and risk of idiots in large crowds. Large groups of unintelligent people will do things that individuals would never consider. Riots, beatings, arson, and even murder can take place when groups of dullards gather. Large groups are difficult if not impossible to manage and if left on their own, they will do things that defy stupidity. Avoid mobs of people when possible.
  • When you deal with the government, understand that it love rules and processes much more than human beings. Bureaucracy is the machinery of any government. Corollary:  Bureaucracies always exist at the expense of individuals or their rights. As such, most bureaucracies cannot be trusted.
  • Your best friends are those that are willing to tell you the truth about yourself.
  • When dealing with idiots count on them doing something stupid, and you will never be disappointed.  Expectations in life are important. People of low intelligence are, by their very nature, going to do things that validate their stupidity with intelligent people. Just make sure you’re in the number that is validated.
  • Most people say they want the truth, but really they don’t.

Below are the links on Amazon and you should be able to order it through bookstores sometime in the next few weeks.  If you are into this kind of thing, let me know what you think.  In the meantime, I’m crawling back into researching and writing true crime.

Kindle:  The Life Book – ebook

Paperback:  The Life Book – paperback

Review Time-Life’s Killer Cults – Inside the Mind of Charles Manson and Other Cult Leaders

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If nothing else, this made me question, “what is a cult?” 

As a true crime author it is impossible for me to walk past a magazine with Charles Manson on the cover.  I’m weak that way.  After all, one of the books that drew me into writing TC was Helter Skelter.  Also, I just finished watching Waco on Paramount network, so I was compelled to pick this up.

Time-Life has put out of few of these magazines focused on true crime. Lavish in photos, they don’t go into much depth. If you are looking for shocking revelations or new information, generally these are not where you go.  This issue, I have to admit, they did provide some new bit of information I was unaware of – hence my taking the time (pun intended) for a review.

Half of the 96 pages of this magazine are dedicated to Manson.  There are some photos I have not seen before, plucked from Life’s archives no-doubt.   When it comes to new information, there’s not a lot here, but there are some nuggets that were interesting – especially about Manson’s life behind bars.

The remainder of the article focused on the Jonestown massacre, the Branch Davidians, the Heaven’s Gate suicides, and the terror attacks of Aum Shinrikyo.  There’s not a lot of depth here on these other groups, only the basic information.  I have to admit, I knew almost nothing about, Aum Shinrikyo which made it most interesting chapter to me.  It surprised me that this organization had such a strong following in Russia.  You just don’t associate cults with Russia, at least I don’t.

I probably could just end the review right here and say it was three out of five starts.  Mildly entertaining, but not a lot that is new.  It was worth looking at for some of the photos.  I can’t just let it go that easily.  What this relatively simple magazine does is make you wonder and question, “what is a cult?”

Time-Life seems to concentrate on any group of people led by a charismatic leader; where the leader exerts control over these people to some extent.  “Cult” is a word that has a negative connotation to it, but in this case it makes you wonder what Time-Life’s criteria was for inclusion.  I understand the arguments for most of these cases, but in the case of the Branch Davidians I am wondering if they were truly a cult.  I think David Koresh had a strong influence over his people, but from accounts I have read from the survivors, they also opted to stay with him on their own accord based on their beliefs.

Were the Branch Davidians simply a deeply devoted group of followers of a religious lifestyle, or were they a cult?  I’m not sure I can make that call, but the fact is, this book helped me consider that question says quite a bit.

Overall this is a three out of five stars.

#truecrime

The Twilight of the Clans That Almost Was

Exodus Road
This wasn’t how it originally was going to go down.

I’ve told this story before at Gen Con years ago and in my old blog, but I have updated it a little bit.  This is the story of the original first story of the BattleTech book set, Twilight of the Clans.  For people who write novels in a shared universe, or writers in general, this is a story to help you see some of the thought process that went into a big event in the BattleTech universe.

When this idea was first floated up, Sam Lewis told me, “We’re going to take the fight to the Clans and wrap this phase of the universe.”  I have to admit, I was excited.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the Clans, but I felt like we were stagnated with the stories.  Back then, the novels/fiction drove the sourcebooks and products, and without good stories, we were stuck.  A truce, in the BattleTech universe, was akin to death from a novel perspective.

Back in those days fiction drove the universe.  The last few years it has been sourcebooks that have done that, albeit with some fiction provided.  Novels drove the story.  We didn’t have carte blanche to do what we wanted.  Fiction had to fit in an established framework.  Game product was tied to novel releases so that fans could read the story, then fight the battles.  That continued on into the Dark Ages.  I won’t go there right now because the mere mention of it still sets off some readers out there.  I DO have opinions as to what went wrong…but I will hold those for another blog.

The whole Twilight series was going to take us out for 4-5 years of stories and products.  We didn’t start with an end-state other than this was going to be a huge set-back for the Clans at the time, allowing us to focus more on Inner Sphere non-Clan fiction.  The intent was to lay the foundation for the Fed Com civil war.  When the victors came home, surprise!

Prior to the Gen Con BattleTech summit (which were always fun), we were given preliminary assignments.  Somehow I got the first book of the set, kind of the sacrificial lamb role.  My job was to, “pave the way for the Inner Sphere to get to the Clan homeworlds.”  Bill Keith was to follow me with a two book set about the attack.  Mike was to tie the bow on the entire affair with the defeat of the Clans.  At this point, we weren’t sure what that looked like just yet.

The BattleTech summits were really just meals with the authors where we could brainstorm ideas, talk about the next year’s products etc.  I always got a chuckle watching the serving staff bring us our food while we talked about how we could kill Melissa Steiner-Davion.  The staff must have thought we were crazy – but then again, it was Milwaukee and Gen Con…they probably just ignored us.

(Sidebar: My suggestion was to kill Melissa by having someone push her down a flight of stairs on Christmas Eve.  “Why Christmas Eve?” someone asked.  “I don’t know, it just sounds kind of cool.”  Clearly that got rejected.)

When it was my turn, I presented my concept to kick us off.  The original plan I came up with was to hijack a Clan warship and take the information of the route to the homeworlds from their navcomputer.  That was what I drafted at least.  It was no more than three paragraphs at this stage.  There was a ground battle at a spaceport (you had to have some ‘Mech combat after all) then the team would make their way to the ship in orbit, seize her in a furious shipboard battle against Elementals – and the route to the Clan homeworlds would belong to the Inner Sphere.  I called it Exodus Road, the route back along Kerensky’s exodus route. More importantly, I got to play with a warship which was something I always wanted for Christmas but never got.

There were flaws with the idea in terms of a novel.  One was that it was going to lack cool ‘Mech battles which were the mainstay of the novels at the time.  That made everyone, including me, a little nervous.  At the same time it would get us onto a warship which opened up some cool possibilities.

To execute this book I had to map the Clan homeworlds (an honor I might add) and map out the planet that Bill would be attacking.  The map I drew up was originally was for Strana Mechty.  My thinking (and Bill’s at the time) was that we would be hitting that planet for the main assault. It was very cool, getting to not only draw up the map but name all of the Clan homeworlds (with the exception of the Pentagon worlds which we named in the Wolf Clan Sourcebook and Strana Mechty which Mike named.)

Bill came up with a great idea for the attack – one he shared with me and I was allowed to contribute to (albeit in a minor way).  The Inner Sphere fleet would jump on Strana Mechty.   Their target, the Clan’s central genetic repository which was a massive pyramid.  The premise he floated was that the Clans kept all of their genetic material in one secure location, never really fearing an external attack.

The assault would come in several parts.  One DEST team was going to seize Kerensky’s flagship (which held his coffin) orbiting the world and use it to augment the planetary bombardment.  This was my little contribution to all of this – I loved the idea of using the McKenna’s Pride to bombard the Clans.  The rest of the forces would drop on the pyramid and take it.  Holding their precious genes they would force the Clans to submit.  Sure it was blackmail, but it would work…I was sure of it.

But we all know that the Clans would come in – with everything they had, having been caught flat-footed.  The battle would be horrific.  In the end the Inner Sphere would beat the clans (thanks to the bidding system) but the losses would spell the end of the Gray Death Legion (Bill told me that Gray would simply walk off into the jungles, horrified at the level of war he was forced to unleash).  Holding the Clan genes as a bartering chip, they would force the Clans into eventual submission.  “You come at us and your gene pool gets microwaved.”

Bill and I both thought it was awesome.  And to this day, I still think so. I think Bill wanted to have Gray come full circle – he would have recovered the Star League memory core, and seen it used to horrific ends.

Anyway, back at the summit – we bounced the ideas off the other writers.  Sam Lewis and others were concerned about my thought of simply stealing the map of the Exodus Road from a warship.  As I remember it, “Blaine, the Clans wouldn’t be that stupid.”  (Notice that he didn’t say they weren’t stupid in general – just not that stupid.)  I preferred to think of it as arrogance on their part, but ultimately Sam said, “Let’s make it a traitor to the Clans that betrays them.”  Thus the concept of Trent was born in a Hyatt restaurant in Milwaukee.  I remember thinking, “oh boy (sarcasm) a traitor as the lead character in a book.  Yeah, people will bond with that guy – NOT.”  You don’t see a lot of people wanting to read about Benedict Arnold.  There are no Benedict Arnold tee-shirts that kids on campus are wearing.

We were talking a complete rewrite of my proposal, which was frustrating but okay.  That’s how things go if you write in a shared universe.  It made Trent a real challenge as a character, which stretched me as a writer.  How do you take a traitor and make him someone that everyone would be secretly cheering for?  I personally like to think I rose to the occasion.

Mike Stackpole, (if I remember correctly) suggested that we didn’t have to go after all of the Clans, we needed to wipe out one of them.  There was some discussion about which one we should target too – a fairly active debate.  Ultimately the Smoke Jaguars were chosen as the sacrificial lambs of the Clans.  So, my map of Strana Mechty was changed, albeit slightly, to become Huntress – the new target of the assault.

I thought that the Hindu and Indian cultures had gotten short changed in BattleTech, so I consulted with a co-worker who helped me with the naming of the Huntress cities and features.  I guess I was being diverse before diversity was a thing.  For a long time it was the only mapped out Clan homeworld.

Bill’s thinking of the pyramid genetic repository seemed sound to me but there was a lot of debate that the Clans wouldn’t keep their genes in one place.  There was some logic in that – but we were talking the Clans.  Logic alone didn’t work with these folks.  Bill pointed out that going after one Clan didn’t make sense.  The Clans would clamor for a chance to wipe out the Inner Sphere task force even if we did take out one Clan.  Holding their genetic material as hostage seemed to be good way to blunt all of the Clans pouncing on the Inner Spherers.  Politics, it was decided, would leave the Smoke Jaguars isolated and forced to fight alone.  Politics had always been a big part of BattleTech, so we could make it work.  I prefer the sword over the words though.

Dealing with the Nova Cats had to be addressed too since they shared an invasion corridor.  I always felt like we missed an opportunity to do more fighting with them.  Instead they changed sides, more or less, backing the Star League.  I would have enjoyed a whole novel dedicated to fighting the Cats much more.  Yes, it was all true to the nature of their clan, blah, blah, blah.  I would have liked more fighting.

Bill’s invasion obviously had to dramatically change as a result of all of this.  Bill never complained to me but I think he was pretty disappointed.  He had really mapped things out pretty well.  It is hard sometimes to work in a shared universe.  Bear in mind I was still trying to figure out how I could make a Smoke Jaguar turn traitor.  Bill ended up taking a pass on doing the novels.  The Gray Death Legion didn’t die on Strana Mechty – it clung on for several more years.

After the meeting Bryan drew up a detailed proposal for the entire series (which I have and will be releasing in future blogs) which we were supposed to follow. Stress “supposed.” Some changes (some major) were made, all for the better.  Once you get writing books you sometimes come up with better ideas.

Some things originally proposed did get reused, though in different ways.  I loved what we came up with about stealing General Kerensky’s flagship (McKenna’s Pride) and using it to bomb the planet.  So, when I did Betrayal of Ideals (the infamous Wolverine saga) I leveraged the scene and finally got it into print.  That little scene is a private tribute to Bill Keith.   Bill would have done it better, but I thought his idea deserved seeing a day in print.

I have always wondered how things would have played out if we had gone with Bill’s invasion plan.  The end results would have been the same.  Bill had planned some space battles, but the final novels had a lot more of that.  The Eridani Light Horse got more fiction play rather than the Gray Death Legion.

I liked the final product of the Twilight Series with one minor exception, how Trent was dealt with. Mike and I sent some emails back and forth about the scene.  He argued strongly that Victor would never fully like or trust Trent.  I felt that made Victor a little two dimensional.  It also seemed to be callous and disingenuous to Trent who we set up in the first novel.  Trent was a man of honor just like Victor.  In the end, Trent’s demise seemed somehow inappropriate.  What do I know, I just created the character.  I am pleased to say I have found a way to come to peace with Trent and you will all get a chance to enjoy it soon!

#BattleTech

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 22

 

Ranger1

 

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!

Brandon…

When I got my first look at the White Vale it was intimidating. A plateau rose in the distance but the sheer rock faces leading up to it formed a canyon of sorts that narrowed on both sides to a point in the center. The stone faces were draped with thick vines, centuries old, many long dead but still clinging to the rocks. The canyon walls were vertical climbs of over 200 heads height. My experience was that such vines were dangerous to climb. Rot often led to a plunge to death. Thoughts of working our way north of the vale and lowering into it were dashed.

For many stone-throws of distance the vale opened up, littered with bleached bones, some streaked with rust from armor. There were several large mounds of bones out there, no doubt from massive creatures that had died there. What had killed them?

The floor of the vale was covered with a cobblestone as far as the eye could see. Most were light gray, but some stood out, a dark pink granite, almost red in color. Weeds poked up between the gaps in the stones and snaked through the twisted array of bones. This was a place of death. It lacked the aroma of death, but it was clear from the carnage that this place was where countless lives had been lost; dwarven and other.

I glanced over at the paladin Arius and he crossed himself at the sight of the vale. My new companion, the warlock Althalus, muttered something that only his ears and his patrons could hear. He was a quirky fellow, always brooding. He surveyed the long open field of bones and stones as if he were more curious than afraid. For me, the words of Ichabod still rang in my ears.

The others tied their horses and we moved down cautiously to the edge of the vale. I could not discern any trail through the shattered marrow. As we lined up along the very edge of the vale, it was Arius that said, “We should enter – all of us.” If we were to face danger, better to do it together.

We took a cautious step in. Nothing happened. Perhaps, this is not going to be so bad after all. I remember thinking that – for a few moments. I used my ability to check for the presence of undead. If there was ever a place where this could be useful, it is before an endless field of bones. “Wait, let me check for the presence of the undead.”

“You probably should have done that before we stepped in,” the paladin said under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear.

I followed the procedures correctly, but I could not see any one undead. Instead it was as if the entire vale lit up in my mind as being undead. That was impossible…wasn’t it?

“Well?” Althalus asked.

“Everything is undead,” I said. “The whole vale.”

“Well, I feel suddenly calm,” the warlock replied with one of his twisted grins that made me wonder if he was joking, or deadly serious.

“And we have no idea where we are going,” Arius said. “Those red stones weave a trail in to the middle of this canyon. I guess that is where we should head.”  It was as good as an idea as any the rest of us had.

We moved carefully into the vale, every now and then you hear the crack of bone shards under our boots. We weren’t stepping on the red stones, but following their general path. At around forty heads in Theren held up his hand. “There’s a shuffling of the bones over there,” he pointed to his right. He was right, we could see them twitching, moving on their own.

We paused, staring at theme for a long moment, wondering what was making them twitch. Suddenly the bones seemed to move, rising up in skeletal form. Bits of armor buried on the vale floor snapped to them, clinging as if they belonged there. Skeleton fighters! Both of the skeletal warriors held rusted swords in their hands. One, missing a jawbone, seemed to survey our party slowly, right to left.

Then they broke into a charge.

While focused on these undead abominations, we heard more clatter of bones shuffling behind us. Theren fired his bow but missed the skeletons entirely. Althalus spun to see the threat behind us. “More are forming to our rear!”  Three more skeletons formed from the debris of the vale floor.

Arius the paladin held out his hands and uttered a chant at the ones approaching from our rear. One of the new attackers stopped dead in his tracks, but the others seemed to smile a toothless grin and charge at Arius.

Althalus held out his hand and an emerald beam of magic burst forward, but missed the charging skeletal warriors. He hit a number of bones on the ground, sending them flailing about the cobblestones. Where those bones landed in the distance, and they seemed almost magnetic, as if they were attracting more bones to them. We didn’t have time to focus on them though, we were under assault.

Bor, the burley fighter, swung his hammer Skullringer at one of those that closed on Theren, shattering it into hundreds of bits and pieces. Parts flew some 50 head distance. The skull rolled right to the edge of the vale.

I pulled my staff and swung it at the closest one to me but caught the air, not the bones. I almost lost my balance from the swing. Dimitrious moved to protect Athalus, putting himself between the warlock and the skeletons.

I swung again and this time hit the rib cage of one of the creatures, shattering ribs and bits of scale armor that clung to the bones. It turned on me and plowed its rusty sword into my shoulder, digging deep.

One skeletons swung at Arius but did nothing more than shatter the tip of his rust-splotched sword on the paladin’s armor with a high pitched, “ting,” sound ringing in the air.

The monk caught the blade of one of the attackers, downing him instantly. A spray of blood hit the warlock he was protecting. “No! Dimitrious!” wailed Athalus. He unleashed a blast of his magic on the attacker, shattering the skeleton into bits and pieces. The monk regained his feet, his blue robe showing a wet crimson smear from the sword cut.

Arius swung his sword into the skeleton that had tried to kill him, his blade cutting through its right arm and rib cage, turning it from an attacker to a flying pile of bones and armor.

Theren swung his staff into one of the skeletons hitting it, but only shattering its shoulder blade.

The bones in the distance seemed to draw from one of the larger piles, slowly it was growing in size and shape. Closer to us, the skeleton that Arius has frozen into place, seemed to shake free from the paladin’s spell, and charged at him.

I swung my staff at him and missed, the air whistling as my weapon passed through it. Arius swung at him and caught only air as well as the skeleton seemed almost charmed to our assault. Theren caught him with his staff, catching him on the skull and shatter it. The bones collapsed like a puppet whose strings were severed.

Athalus turned to the large pile of assembling bones and cast a spell on it. The air shimmered yellow and a boiling smoke cloud formed, filled with swinging daggers of energy. Then the cloud seemed to flicker, then dissipated. Athalus stood with his mouth agape for a moment. “That can’t be good.”  Theren moved his hands, clearly casting some sort of spell, though I could not see what it was.

It formed before us – a massive creature, ancient and evil. Its skull alone was massive, reformed from bits of bones. Torn gray leather wings hinged on bones emerged and seemed to spread. A dragon!  Not just any dragon, but a Bone Dragon – skeletal and malevolent as if it were alive. Bits of dragon scale clung to its ribs, while others were missing and left huge gaps. Two massive horns rose from its massive skull. It loomed large as the final bones re-assembled it before us. Its teeth gleamed like two dozen daggers, any one of which could rip one of us apart. Ichabod was right. The White Vale was filled with death…maybe our own.

The last skeleton warrior drove its sword deep into Arius, finding a gap in his armor. The paladin moaned in agony from the hit. An invisible force, no doubt from Theren’s magical machinations, shattered the last skeletal warrior, raining bits on the injured paladin. I had been raised to be wary of magic users, but here, in battle, I found myself shedding that belief.

“I don’t like it,” Athalus said, looking at the Bone Dragon. The beast’s bones rattled as its tail swept behind it. “This is going to be bad,” he added flatly.

Bor didn’t hesitate – he charged straight at it first, Skullringer reeled back for what should have been a devastating blow. The ancient warhammer came down completely missing the dragon, clanging hard on the cobblestones.

Althalus backed up nearly thirty heads and fired his magic energy bolts at the creature, shooting upward into the gray sky. Theren shifted and waved his hands before him. Around the creature a snarl of spikes on vines appeared. If it were to move at all the massive thorns would rip at it, tearing at its bones and wings. Such a move had killed the goblins before, I was hopeful that it would do the same with this creature.

It batted its massive wings, kicking up a cloud of dust, bones, and debris from the floor of the White Vale. As it rose and moved forward, the vines did their work, but were simply no match for the massive creature. It opened its massive maw of a mouth and seemed to glare at us with its dark holes where its eyes were. I told myself it was just a skeleton of a dragon, its days of breathing fire or whatever had long passed. It was dead after all.

I was wrong.

From the massive mouth came a stream of bone shards, each like a deadly dagger, sprayed out at us in a cone of death and destruction. Dimitrious, and Theren sprang into action, lessoning the amount of spray that ripped into them where Bor had been spared the attack completely. I felt my legs and chest feel as if they had been doused in burning oil from the hits and looking down I saw bits of bones sticking out of my left thigh. I pulled them free, then my vision tunneled. I dropped to my knees and everything went black. It was dying…I knew it. Is this how my life was to end…on some forgotten field of bones?

IMG_1685
You know you are entering a critical fight when the DM produces a miniature that he specially purchased and painted for the encounter.  

I suddenly felt better. I opened my eyes and saw the sky above me, but somehow I had been saved somehow from almost certain death. I didn’t question it..

I wasn’t sure if it was a dream until I heard, “I don’t like this,” from Althalus. I saw him as I got my footing and he looked as if he were soaked in his own blood.

Dimitrious seemed to shake off the damage as well, getting back to his feet as I did. Whatever had saved my death had done the same to the monk. No doubt magic from our paladin. We had been badly injured, but were alive. Bor switched to a throwing axe and chucked it high above him into the dragon, embedding it into one of the massive shins of the skeletal dragon, but doing no real damage.

Emerald green energy shot from the outstretched arms of our warlock into the creature – but only hit him for a little damage, pushing the creature back a few feet, enough for the thorny vines to injure him again.

The Bone Dragon moved forward in flight, then landing with a thud that shook the ground we stood up. Bor was now behind it and I saw him smile – thinking he had gotten the upper hand on the creature. That smile fell as the creature’s massive tail swung at him, hitting him hard. Bor grabbed his other axe and buried it hard into his leg, clearly hurting the beast.

I was only ten heads away from the beast and it loomed over me, towering three times my height. This was the wrong place to be…that much was for sure.

I toyed with the thought of mounting the creature, but common sense took hold of me. Instead I fell back, shifting to my longbow. My arrow hit one of the ribs of the creature and snapped from the force of the impact – doing no damage to the massive skeleton.

Bor chucked his axe and went back to Skullringer as his weapon of choice. He swung with every bit of his strength, but missed the Bone Dragon entirely. We had all been hoping that the mighty warhammer might shatter the creature, but he had missed entirely.

As I side-stepped for a better angle, I saw Theren start to become, well, blurry, as if he were changing. He dropped to all fours and hair sprung out, his size grew. A heartbeat later I saw where the druid had once been stood a large direwolf. I had seen them during my ranges in the forest, always at a safe distance. This one was massive, ominous, and ferocious. It reminded me just how little I knew about my new comrades in arms.

The direwolf lunged at the Bone Dragon, tearing its forearm, gouging the bones with its teeth. If the dragon felt pain, we didn’t see it. Instead it swiped its tail at Bor again, hitting him hard, sending him flying back. I swear I heard his ribs break under the impact. Blood oozed from the corners of his mouth as he drifted to momentary unconsciousness. Arius gestured towards him, possibly summoning the spirit of God to help our fallen fighter. Whatever he did, Bor stirred awake, shaking his head, wiping the blood on his sleeve, and making his way to his feet.

The Bone Dragon pressed on against the direwolf with one of its massive claws, tearing into the flesh of the wolf. Theren-wolf winced from the savaging, but squatted on its haunches and looked even angrier.

Althalus looked as if he were casting a spell, but if he did, its effects were unknown to us. The Bone Dragon unleashed an agonizing wail that made my skin crawl. It should have been impossible, it had no body, so the wail came from the netherworld that had spawned it.

I fired my longbow again, missing the massive creature. Our silent monk friend shifted to its rear, swinging but doing no damage. The Bone Dragon swept his massive table. Bor ducked it but it hit Arius hard, leaving his limp form unconscious.

The druid-direwolf bit deep into the left leg of the beast, once more ripping into the bone. I could see the bits of marrow in the froth around its mouth. The skeletal beast responded with a sweep of its claw, tearing a nasty wound across Theren’s hide.

Althalus fired his magical burst – hitting the creature in its midriff region and searing some of the bones of the massive rib cage. I saw that the paladin was growing pale, so I sprinted to his aide, putting pressure on his wounds. Blood oozed between my fingers as I tried to keep him alive.

The warlock unleashed another eldritch blast – the bright green energy hitting the right leg of the Bone Dragon and burning through in one spot. The massive skeleton reeled under the assault, showing a rare moment of injury to us. Me…I was focused on that tail whipping near my head and trying to stop Arius’s horrible blood loss. Bor joined me and was able to wrap a bandage on the paladin’s arm wound enough to hold him somewhat stable.

The tail whip-snapped in the air above me, nearly knocking my hat off – hitting Bor and sending him flying unconscious into the field of bones. Before any of us could react, the claw of the Bone Dragon swiped at the direwolf-druid and knocked hard, rolling in the bone shards. His form flickered for a moment and we saw Therein the human take shape.

The druid did what he could for Bor as the monk sprung into action, hitting the right leg of the creature so hard I saw fragments of bone fly from the hit. I tried to strike the creature with an arrow but it had no visible effect. What could stop this beast?

The tail snapped like a whip, hitting Bor again, knocking him senseless and limp, rolling in the bones of the vale. I wondered if we were going to survive this as my heart pounded in my ears. Ichabod’s warnings to us about the vale haunted me at this moment. Theren muttered a word of healing, enough for Arius to climb to his knees, then his feet. The druid then struck with his staff. The sound of the crack was deafening.

For a moment the Bone Dragon wavered. Then it was as if everything that held the bones together suddenly disappeared. It collapsed down onto itself, forming a massive pile of parts and shards. Some of the bones twitched, as a creature might that had been just killed. For a long moment we stared at the pile, unsure what had just happened. Did we really defeat it?  Then we all cheered, all in unison. Yes! Victory was ours!

An eerie silence smothered the White Vale. I set my eyes on the dragon’s skull, still oddly intact amidst the pile of bones and dragon scale. I had heard Althalus talking about some skull he had at one point that was worth a fortune. I knew that many magic users would pay a hefty price for any part of a dragon. The skull had to be worth a lot. I walked over to it and realized that it was massive, too big for me to carry alone. “I want the skull.”

“Too big,” the warlock said. “Trust me. If you want a souvenir pick something smaller.”

I took out a dagger and pried loose one of big teeth and stuck it in my pocket. That had to be worth something. The story alone that went with it would get me drinks in any tavern. It gave me a lot of satisfaction.

The silence was shattered when some of the bones started twitching and Arius suggested a rapid departure from the vale to get our second wind and try and wrap our wounds. We scampered out of the field. Looking back it dawned on me that we had barely entered the vale and had nearly died…and there were other large piles of bones out there that could be just as deadly as the Bone Dragon, or worse. Worse than that, we had only gotten into the field some 50 heads distance…a long ways from the far end where we suspected the entrance to Tempora to be.

It took an hour or so for us to recoup and even then, we were weary from the fight. “So what do we do now?” I asked as all eyes drifted back to the White Vale.

“We are going back to the bones,” Althalus replied. “Maybe we should consider doing something a little different than the last time.”  There were a few nods of agreement.

Theren studied the vale carefully. “Let’s think this over. We should sleep on this, keep watch, maybe we can find some alternate approach. We set up a small campfire, though our sleep was fitful that night. This was not the kind of place one found solace near.

A light rain moved in during the early morning, a cold penetrating rain. The vale was just a daunting in the morning. “I think we need to work our way to the far canyon wall where it seems to come to a point.”

Arius stepped forward. “I am going to try and ask God for help. His divine sense may provide me with some sort of path through these bones.”  He held out his arm and closed his eyes for a moment. When they opened his eyes, he winced. “There are over 150 skeletons of some sort out there.”  That made us all cringe. “There is a pattern of the red stones though. I can barely make it out. It is like a spiderweb of paths, but one does lead to that far wall at the apex.”

“I don’t think there’s a good choice here,” Althalus said.

“There are a lot of gaps between those stones – I mean we would have to jump some pretty far distances,” the paladin said.

“We just jump. It’s not a big deal, right?” the warlock offered.

“You do remember the Bone Dragon, right?” I responded.

“That poem did mention the Blood of the Gods or something like that. It has to be those reddish stones.” Theren said. “I’ll go first. If something goes wrong, I have spells that can help me get out.”

“We’ll watch you and see what happens to you then,” I said.

His pattern was to walk or hop to a stone, pause, look around, make sure that he was not causing any skeletons to rise, then move on with the next steps. At one point he lost his balance and fumbled, but there were no skeletons rising up against him. He used his quarterstaff to steady himself.

“That looks easy, I’ll follow him.”  I did pretty well until I was near Theren, then I stumbled, missing the red granite stone. I landed on a bone and dropped. The bones near me suddenly stirred and rose, forming a skeletal warrior looming over me, sword at the ready. I got to my knees to rise and suddenly there was a brilliant blast of magical energy from Althalus at the edge of the vale. The beams severed the skeleton in half, sending the bones flying, some landing on me. I was so startled I lost my footing and stumbled once more. Between Theren and me another skeleton warrior, this one armed with a rusted morning star, assembled and took shape.

The druid swung his quarterstaff, hitting it hard, breaking its spine, sending the upper torso one way, the lower portion the other. I took my time getting up, getting next to Theren.

Bor joined us. The rest of the party followed the same path we had followed. Arius fell, but no skeletons came up as a result. Dimitrious made his leaps perfectly as did Althalus. We formed up now, some sixty feet in the middle of the White Vale. It felt lonely out there, surrounded by a sea of bones…but my new comrades seemed to have my back.

“Do we go to the center, the left or the right?” Althalus asked. We did a quick show of hands and opted for the center.

Our next move was 100 heads distance. I stumbled and the skeleton rose up next to the warlock. He responded with a devastating blow, shattering the remains of the warrior, its sword flailing into the bones and stones. And so it continued on. Sometimes we missed a stone, and a skeleton would assemble itself almost instantly, but they were easily dispatched. My eyes were on the larger piles of bones. That was where a Bone Dragon or some other bone creature might appear. Our attention was focused on them.

It was a slow go as our line of leaping and jumping party made their way across the White Vale. I was confident that we were going to make it when I fell hard. Suddenly, there were a stirring with one of the large bone piles, just as we had seen before.

“Damn,” I cursed.

“We need to get to the wall!”  Theren yelled. “I can cast a fog bank spell I have that can give us cover.”

“You might want to lead with that next time,” Arius said flatly.

The fog rolled in a wall some 20 heads high blocking the Bone Dragon’s view of us. Another skeleton warrior appeared in front of Bor and was destroyed by the warlock. Its skull landed in my lap, and I immediately dropped it. From behind the wall of fog, we could hear the bones shuffle more loudly. Looking over at the fog bank, we could see the outline of the tattered wings of the beast stretch out, creaking as they did. A chilling bellow filled the air, piercing the magical fog.

Theren cast another fog bank as the sounds of the dragon stomping on the bones drew closer. Our party made its way to the canyon wall. It was covered with a thick blanket of vines, some thick, many of them long dead. It dawned on me that we were trapped here, with nowhere else to go. If the door to Tempora was not here, we were doomed.

Dimitrious pulled out a torch and his flint and steel, nodding at the wall. “That makes way too much sense,” Althalus said, holding the torch as the monk lit it. Those old vines would burn pretty easily. The warlock was struck by another skeleton that formed up next to him. He pivoted and hit it, not enough to stop the creature, but sending some of its rusted chainmail flying.

The Bone Dragon flapped its wings and the wall of fog billowed out towards us along with a fine dust of bones and debris from the floor of the vale. “Flamous sphereoius,” yelled Theren, and a sphere of flames formed around the dragon. While its wings were singed by the flames of the massive ball of compressed fire.

The monk with the torch lit the vines on fire while we kept our attention on the immediate threat. Bor hacked at the vines, looking for some sign of a door or escape. I felt along the stone face of the wall, trying to find anything that might help us.

Theren moved the flaming sphere to stay on the dragon as it advanced towards us then spun, reaching through the vines. “I found it – I found a door!  The door’s here!  I found the edge of a hinge or something.”

It was huge, it went up nearly 20 heads height. The vines obscured it and it was thick stone. “Find the edges!” the druid yelled. Arius joined in for the search but his fingers found Bor’s butt rather than the door. “What are you doing?” the burly fighter said glaring at the paladin.

“I missed the wall,” he said embarrassed, turning to the wall and continuing his search. Dimitrious set fire to more of the vines above our heads. Chaos reigned as we were trapped.

The skeletal Bone Dragon lumbered forward within 50 heads of us and opened its toothy maw and breathed. The air filled with bone shards and fragments, unleashed in a torrent, each a potential lethal white dagger. The bone-shard breath shredded armor and flesh that it hit. Althalus managed to cast a spell of some sort, putting an end the spray of bones as the massive beast took damage. My own armor was torn apart, and there were at least a half- dozen bones stabbed into my torso and arms. The sight of all of that blood – my own blood, made me light-headed. I collapsed on the floor of the vale, blood flowing into my right eye. I was sure that I was going to die in that moment. Everything went dark.

My memories of what happened after that were a blur. I heard voices. Something about the door. It felt as if someone tossed my body, like I was rolling, but I can’t be sure. Suddenly I saw light – the torch, laying on the floor next to me. The cold stone made my cheek ache as I came to and pushed my body to a sitting position.

All around me it was dark and the air was stale. “Where are we?  What happened?”

Theren leaned in close to my face, pulling one of the bone shards out of my chest and tossing it aside. “We made it inside. We’re in Tempora,” he said in a low voice.

“What about the Bone Dragon?” I said pulling out some of the larger shards. Some hurt more, some less as I did the deed.

“It hit the door and shattered,” Althalus said wearily. He too was pulling fragments of bone out of his left side.

We were in the lost dwarven city. We had made it!

 

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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