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    The Very Reason

    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: Campaign Stuff, Gamers, Philosophy

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    I was talking about AD&D in my last post and tonight Cody came to me with a question … concerning a D&D 5 character of his. He wanted to know what kind of defense using a person’s body as a meat shield would afford him. Its D&D, son, how the hell do I know? So we talked it out and he grabbed his Player’s Handbook and looked up a few things. No rules, not even a hint … and that’s the very reason I tossed AD&D into the ‘never play this crap again’ pile.

    I hadn’t had that AD&D DM Guide for more than a few weeks when I ran across my new favorite stupidity. Opening a door. Gee, I have STR of X so to bash a door down I have to roll X or less on a six-sided dice. What if the door is a flimsy modern indoor house door? Is it easier … nope. Or if it is an iron bound solid oak door, is it harder? No … I didn’t see anywhere that things like that were taken into account. So now we have my mighty son wishing to use a body as a meat shield.

    I suggested an increase in Thexes’ armor class based on the armor the body is wearing. Of course ‘armor class’ is a pretty screwed up system in the first place since as a Hero player I can see all kinds of possibilities. D&D … no rule. Does it increase AC? Does it have any penalties for trying to maneuver a limp corpse … nah. How about any idea how much strength it takes to maneuver said corpse? Nope. And what if they hit the corpse with say … a nice long sharp spear? Does it go through and nail the shielded person? I could answer all that with Hero … He still hasn’t seen the Light …

    I told him with a 100 kg corpse, he’d need 10 STR to pick it up but since he wanted to keep it upright and between his attacker and himself, he’d probably need a 12 STR. Would it lower his Defensive Combat Value (DCV), heck yeah. Ask any fireman who has ever pulled someone out of a build and they’ll tell you it slows you down, a lot. I would hit him with a -2 DCV at least. Then there’s defense. Treat it as a wall with PD/ED equal to the PD/ED of the body plus and armor, rPD/rED, natch. Then there is the ‘BODY’ of the body. Pretty obvious, that of the corpse when alive. So, any STUN or BODY that exceeds the meat shield’s, the character takes against his own defenses.

    Is that unnecessarily complex? Personally, I don’t think so. Why? Logic. Hero is pretty logical, D&D … not so much. That first time I lifted a foot to kick in a door as Ghost Archer, I knew exactly what was to be expected. I knew how much damage I could do and how much the door could take. From there, easy … of course unless you are JJ. Playing Champions, a SUPER hero game for crap sake, we watched JJ valiantly attempt to kick down a fire door over and over. I think he gave up after three tries, unlimbered his plasma rifle and blasted the top of the building off (it was the access door on a roof). The primary reason War Eagle now has a 50 STR instead of his original 10 is because of that door. JJ was never going to be thwarted by a metal sheathed hunk of wood ever again.


    A Legacy Character

    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: Characters, General Thoughts

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    Eons ago, before the Enlightenment, i.e. before Champions, I dabbled with AD&D. Okay, it is like this … I dropped by the Dragon Cave up on North Military Hwy. in Norfolk in August of 1979. Objective? War games. That day I made two purchases that started me on two very different paths.

    The first was this little folio game called Star Fleet Battles. It consisted of a small blue hex map, a sheet of 1/2″ counters, a thin rule book and these half sheet sized diagrams of star ships called SSDs. That’s ‘ship’s system display’. And it was Star Trek. This was 1979, only ten years after Star Trek had gone off the air. The only Star Trek gaming stuff I’d seen prior to this was Lou Zocchi’s Star Fleet Battle Manual miniatures rules that I’d never played. I was, however, very familiar with Zocchi’s Avalon Hill Jutland, at the time, my favorite war game to play with JJ. So, here’s this game about Star Trek with a ship system display in the same vein as Jutland … I loved it instantly and have played thousands of hours of SFB with probably half a hundred opponents. Still a great game only now the rules have expanded to encyclopedic size and everyone that sees the rules book runs away screaming in terror. That’s SFB!

    The second discovery that day began as a meh … what’s this about? The AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. I picked it up more out of boredom than curiosity thinking that perhaps I could entice JJ into something he doesn’t have to worry about losing when ever he played me. It was my introduction into role playing and it barely lasted three years. In that time though I did manage to gather a couple of novices, including my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, two other kids in the neighborhood and, of course, JJ. Heck, I even ran a little game at work. So, anyway, this is where the Legacy Character comes from.

    Like everything I do, I gathered up everything I could on the subject, i.e. modules for AD&D. This happened to include a few things from a company called the Judge’s Guild. One of their modules, the City-State of the Invincible Overlord became my primary game setting. This was very early days for RPGs and CSotIO was pretty basic but better than anything else … well, more like the only thing available. Its a great city, with every building briefly described, NPCs all over the place, little tidbits like rumours but a lot of things left up to the DM.

    One entry amused me. The Park of Obscene Statues off the Plaza of Profuse Pleasures. In the description of this park, which is like three lines, there is a mention of ‘capering trolls’. I blinked, imagining trolls ‘capering’. Well, from that little mention there came da dum Bruce the gay troll. Now, Bruce was THE capering troll in the park and while my party never confronted said troll, Bruce became a fixture, a legend, in my games both in AD&D and Fantasy Hero games. I never wrote him up, or even used him but he was always lurking amongst the statues …

    Why Bruce? I dunno, honestly, just at the time ‘Bruce’ was synonymous with ‘gay’. Who knows where we get this shit … though thinking back, there was Bruce Jenner so perhaps Bruce is now synonymous with transgender … So, anyway, my son has taken up D&D, something I am trying very hard to break him of but more on that later, and in telling stories of my various adventures, Bruce reared his ugly head and Cody got a kick out of the concept. Between the two of us joking about a gay troll, we managed to push a couple dozen gay stereo-types together for fun. Cody told his gaming friends and they loved the story so I wrote up a quick Bruce character sheet for D&D 5. I am interested to know how Bruce will fare with this new generation of adventurers.

    For fun I decided to also write up Bruce for Fantasy Hero. Let me tell you, Bruce FH is a lot more interesting then Bruce D&D! At the same time, I took Cody’s new D&D character and wrote him up for FH. Printed both the FH sheets and gave them to him to compare with his D&D sheets. First thing he said “This makes my head hurt.” Smartass … Now I am hoping he will show his player friends MY sheets just for fun. Maybe one of them will have an epiphany like mine so many years ago and become Enlightened by the One True Game!


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    If you think about it, they are pretty much the same thing.  What you write can be used in gaming and vise versa.   This, then, is going to be a character post.  What goes into making a character for me.  In fact, I think I’ll actually build one while I am writing this.  Where to start?  It all begins with an inspiration, some spark of something.  In this case?  A picture.  I hit this one looking for a new Alicia …

    Pretty hot, huh?  Well, since I am doing Legacy, which is super heroes, she’ll got in there.  Now, hero or villain?  Let’s see, I have three Minuteman teams.  Red, White and Blue.  Red, the first team has ten members, White team has eight officially and eleven actually.  Don’t tell Miller, he’ll have shit fit.  Blue team is just getting started, none of which I have published but so far there are just four.  I see a small pattern and think I’ll shoot for ten members each.  That means White will need two more ‘official’ members and Blue needs six.  Next, I gotta look at the sex ratio.  Red is 6 female, 4 male.  White is 4 and 4, ‘officially’.  Blue is 2 and 2.  I will leave Red alone, they are fine.  So for hero teams, I have two choices.

    Over on the villain side I have the Predators and the Pride.  I’ve only started publishing the Pride at this point and there are to be pretty low level, not up to the Minutemen level at all.  But … I am already seeing a possibility here.  I can see Miller deciding to throw a monkey wrench into the White Team since they are too damned independent for his liking.  What if he found a meta whom he could … subvert to his side?  Then there would be the plus of jamming a wedge between the smug Wren Collins and her surfer boy … This girl looks hot enough to do that and confident enough to figure it would work.

    What kind of powers to give her?  What is the White team lacking?  A mentalist.   Makes it extra evil having a girl that can read the minds of the team and report to Miller.  Okay, got power set, mentalist.  Now, where’s she from?  Since the rest of the team is west coast, let’s go east.  Ah, while I am thinking about this … I get the impression she’s a pretty hard ass kinda girl.  So hard ass northerner or hard ass southerner.  Could be cute having this sweet southern bell with claws and a bad attitude …  Georgia?  No, Florida, I think.  Ft. Lauderdale I think.  Sixteen, going on thirty.  Got tangled up in Spring Break this year and found out she loves to party.  How did her powers manifest?  Sixteen is a little old for a manifestation. it had to happen at say … thirteen.  I need to make a thirteen year old just getting her powers then.

    She not very strong, and she’s about average when it comes to DEX, but she makes up for it in EGO.  Good CON, light on the BODY, good INT, well just a bit above average then … what would you say?  14, 16 COM?  Though to be honest, she’d never compare to Wren so I’ll have to bump it to 18 or 20.  What about PER? I did say she was ‘hard assed’ so maybe a couple points, 3 I think. I don’t see any extra PD/ED though I will give her a couple of points for SPD since I think metas should be faster than a normal. REC, END and STUN will all be as figured … 75 points in Characteristics.

    Looking at her costume … LARPer maybe?  Thinks of herself as a thief?  Maybe she discovered her powers at a RenFaire and actually stole a few things … She would not get caught.  Bringing me to money.  She must have some disposable income to be able to buy a costume like that plus is she robbing people for the thrill or money?  Thrill, I think.  She’ll have to be adventurous to be of any help to Miller.  Acting skills too.  The mental powers will help with Conversation, Persuasion and other social skills.  Sounds like she might be a bit of a daredevil.  Convinced she’s hot too, judging be the cut of her outfit.

    What type of mental powers?  Telepathy and mind control I think.  Not Telekinesis or Mental Illusions (yet on that one).  Ego attack, yeah.  She’ll need that.  Let’s keep it basic, a plain old Strong Mind Blast … let’s go with 60 points to start.  Some Deep Telepathy. These are right out of the USPD (UNTIL Super Powers Database).  Mental Domination next.  Okay, three attacks.  Throw them into a 30 point Elemental Control Telepathic Powers (120 total active points)

    Need a defense.  Since I am not going to give her TK, so Force Field seems out.  What can I use instead?  Maybe something that makes them miss a lot, some type of mind control off-shoot?  Extra DCV?  Something like Combat Luck?  I can see that.  Let me look.  Maybe Combat Luck linked to an Area Effect Telepathy.  She subconsciously reads everyone in the area and sort just isn’t quite where they think she is.  Extra DCV or some PD/ED like Combat Luck?  I think the extra DCV is more appropo.  Let’s see how this turns out.  DCV skill levels are what?  8 points?  5 points, Combat Skill Level.  Think I’ll need at least 8 since she is going to be relying on them to survive … so, Compound Power, 8 DCV, nah, that won’t work.

    +8 combat skill levels with DCV, Uncontrolled (+1/2), Triggered by Danger Sense (Activating the trigger is an action that takes no time, Trigger automatically resets, immediately after it activates, character does not control activation of personal trigger; +3/4) (90 active points)

    Wow, expensive but hey, have you seen my characters? I kinda don’t care about costs if I can get the results I am looking for. So, +8 DCV, coupled with her natural DCV, which should be about 3 will give her a 11 DCV. Pretty hard for a normal 3 OCV to hit though not so hard for a meta like say Venetrix to hit with her 10 OCV.

    Next she will need that Danger Sense which is really a substitute for an area effect lower level telepathy that picks up on a person’s intent to attack her.

    Read the Room: Danger Sense (immediate vicinity, out of combat, Character can only perceive dangers to herself, Function as a Sense) 14- NOTE: Based on a form of Area Effect Telepathy that allows her to ‘pick up’ on hostile intent. This requires active hostility and so does not detect passive attacks such as traps. (30 active points)

    Let’s see, up to 315 points so far. Incase you haven’t noticed, generally my characters are 200 base points with a 150 point disad cap. This leaves me with 35 points for skills and minor stuff. From here it is all down hill design-wise. This leavs me with the fun part, background. I’ll cover that in another post.



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    One of the problems I have writing is getting caught up in a character … which leads to more characters … which leads to … well, interaction. After a couple of dozen characer ideas hit the fan, say Legacy and the Minuteman teams, interactions can get confusing. Did Kena like Slater? Who does what with which? Solution? A Character Interaction sheet. This thing came about originally when I was gamemastering which necessitated numerous villains and non-player characters. A good GM tries to keep a character ‘in character’ by remembering past interactions with the player characters (PCs).

    Most of the time that’s not too big of a problem a villain have as tendency to pretty much react the same way each and every time a superhero shows up … and a battle begins. Sometimes though, there’s some kind of back story involved. Of instance, War Eagle and Bora. Who’s War Eagle and who is Bora. War Eagle, PC, good guy. Bora, villain, and so controlled by me, very bad, very badass. Thing is, at one time, for about a week, War Eagle and Bora were married. Okay, granted she still tries to kill him regularly, like every time she sees him, but how does she see that week of wedded bliss. Gotta keep notes every time War Eagle talks her out of killing him and into the bedroom …

    That’s just two people. For Legacy I have over twenty and that is just the metahumans. Then there is family, government people, the news media, the president (NO, not THAT president, one that is entirely made up … come to think of it, am I even capable of coming up with one as insane as our current … nevermind). Anyway, lots of people. What I do is make a list … I’ll show you what I mean below:

    • Ranger:
    • Glory:
    • Eagle:
    • Spirit:
    • Bell:
    • Nemesis:
    • Bolt:
    • Mercury:
    • Patriot:
    • Blur:
    • Ember:
    • Giselle:
    • Goliath:
    • Huntress:
    • Laze:
    • Midnight:
    • Mountain Wind:
    • Psiblade:
    • Tempest:

    That’s everybody in the Red and White teams. Then I add a name, of course, and a brief personality synopsis: I’ll Rachel Moore, aka Venomancer:

    Rachel Moore (Venomancer): aka Ra’ch’el Mo’ar: Rachel is a born follower that requires regular approval of her contemporaries. Though powerful in her own right, the addition of her ‘pets’ puts her in par with many of her new world’s ‘metas’. The main problem, as Nat see it, is her insecurity in combat situations. She will follow his directions and plans flawlessly but if she finds herself in a situation not covered in previously made plans, she tends to become lost for what to do next. Out of combat she is fun and breezy and very easy to like.

    See, not hard and not long. Then I list all the people I want keep track of. Sometimes I speak with the character’s voice, sometimes not. Here’s how Rachel sees the Minutemen teams.

    • Blur: She is so much fun to be with and once I got used to her appearing and disappearing at random we became great friends. Also, all the rest of the team seems to be comfortable and highly competent in what they do, Brit is the only one I can share my doubts with. However, as much as she tries, I am NOT going to wear bicycle shorts or any other tight fitting clothes!

    • Ember: Meatball hisses every time Kena enters the room and I can’t blame her. Everything about this girl screams ‘wraith’ no matter what Papa Nat says. I’d rather not find myself in a room alone with her ‘cuz I am afraid she’d turn on me.

    • Giselle: Wren is like no one I’ve ever met. She can be scary and cold but she can also be so kind and gentle. Meatball loves her and that says a lot. It is not unusual to find my kitten curled up on Wren when she’s reading. I don’t understand her powers but from what I’ve gleaned from the others, she can control something called ‘gravity’.

    • Goliath: Nat is so nice, I can’t believe it. In a lot of ways he reminds me of Unca Tad or Papa Dash only without the fur. He’s bigger than either which takes some getting used to but I’ve never seen any evidence of a temper so typical of my own kind. The thing that truly astonishes me is his strength! If I could get him to Archosaur, he could wipe out the wraith single-handed and if I could get all of my new friends there, our world would be safe forever.

    • Huntress: I have never before met a human more dedicated to improving her combat skills. Watching her ‘work out’ is scary but Rocky seems to enjoy duels with her, I just have to remember not to use my own magic on her.

    • Laze: Zach reminds me a great deal of Mody, always flirting and just like Mody, it makes me uncomfortable. I try to make sure someone else is around if Zach is nearby. Maybe he isn’t Mody, but from what others say, he is the same.

    • Midnight: I don’t know how to take Alicia. She seems quiet, almost withdrawn, unless Slater is with her. Unlike Wren, when Alicia is in one of her ‘studies’ I prefer not to interrupt her. She is very . . . I don’t know

    • Mountain Wind: Fuji is unobtrusive, almost invisible when she wants to be and so polite. Guessing by what she likes to do in her free time, some visual game, I doubt we will ever have much in common and very little to talk about though she likes Vanilla very much.

    • Psiblade: Slater is something of an enigma as I have had very little experience with his ‘type’. In some ways he reminds, me of Blademasters I have fought beside. Perhaps it is just his humanness but I see his feelings for Alicia emblazoned on his escutcheon. I have met many an odd pair, Tad and Boby being one, but these two seem even more different.

    • Tempest: Josh is like a wizard that has thrown one too many Pyrograms. At times he seems very normal then as quickly as ever an Untamed did rage, he is off in his own bizarre world. While I do not think him a threat, I am uncomfortable during these times.

    In general: These new companions I find myself allied with are so diverse from the familiar that it is difficult to grasp many of their personalities. Coupled with the strangeness of this new world I find myself adrift and very scared. This place under the ground seems safe but I cannot sleep soundly fearing a sudden wraith attack as they break through a cave wall from below. I miss Thistle very much, she was always calm and confident in any situation we found ourselves in. Now all I can do is imagine what she would do and try to do that.

    At last I have met the other ‘team’. They are called the Minutemen but I do not understand the reference. I have been asked by Papa Nat not to let them know of his Legacy and have taken some pains, literally to my poor ears, to hide my true nature. Luckily my fox form does not illicit comment when I come thus to observe their training. Papa Nat has asked me to ‘keep an eye on’ this group while he and his friends are in their school. I think I have been made a spy and it is very fun to sneak around and keep from being seen. Vanilla, Wren explained, being a white bunny and somewhat larger then native rabbits, would make a poor scout in this case but Meatball is prefect, much to Vanilla’s annoyance. So far, these are conclusions drawn only through observations and while I believe that are fairly accurate, it is possible I may be wrong.

    • Ranger: The one called Mark is so blademaster-like it is hard to credit. Always snapping orders and demanding things be done ‘his’ way. He is quick to criticize and miserly on praise. Should I find myself in a squad with him I would leave in hopes of finding a better man. Papa Nat tells me this one is supposed to lead and that he is a ‘tank’ but I find this hard to believe . . .not that I mistrust Papa Nat but on my world, the tank must be steady and strong, ready to take the damage that others may strike. I do not see this in the one called Mark. I do not like him, nope, nope, nope.

    • Glory: She is very like me, intimidated by the situation in which she finds herself and I feel a great empathy toward her. I believe I could easily be friends with her as we are more alike than I am with any other of my new friends. Like Wren, Meatball finds her hard to resist and many times I have been forced to recall her as she seems content to remain with Shannon. Meatball tells me she must protect Shannon though I do not know from what.

    • Eagle: At first glance, Ern made me and Vanilla VERY nervous, he does, after all, have the seeming of a great bird of prey and what can be more feared by a rabbit than death on silent wing? But then I followed him one early morning to the green sward they call Balboa Park and watched him with the small creatures there. They have no fear of him whatsoever and this heartened me. I have also noted he is very protective of Shannon and she is very comfortable in his presence. For these reasons I have deemed him to be a very fine male with a good heart and love for all things natural. I hope sometime soon, to make my presence known to him and that, together with Shannon, we three might become the best of friends.

    • Spirit: Mal, as she is called, is very hard for me to read. Initially I compared her to Wren in that both are somewhat aloof but truly the similarities end there. Mal is very much comfortable in the roll she has taken, that of mother to her team. She is patient, kind and understanding to all, including the more difficult members. I have never seen in her any display of ire or disappointment, no hint of condescension or sarcasm and best of all, she treats all fairly even during times I would find my temper, a little as it is, tested to the limit.

    • Bell: This one is like Ern in one way at first. She exhibits powers and traits that was an anathema to a bunny but where this is mitigated in Ern by short association, Belle has no such saving grace. She is loud and obnoxious and reminds me of nearly every ‘sin I have encountered. Just her approach will have Vanilla or Meatball heading for cover usually very quickly followed by a little fox. I have no desire to have even the least to do with this one and hope to never find myself up close to her when alone. I fear she might draw from me an instinctive hostile reaction, probably in the form of Rocky

    • Nemesis: I am told the word ‘nemesis’ can mean dire enemy and do not understand why such a name would be chosen but then I have seen odder names in Archosaur. In some ways she is like on to my own race with the ability to change forms but where we are limited to two forms, our ‘human’ and our ‘true’ form, she appears to be under no such limits. While she delights in taking the form of others to occasionally play tricks on her friend and teammates, I am able to detect her in an instant. I suppose having the nose of a fox helps. She is at all times very friendly and enjoys the company of others but I have seen a longing in her at times, when she thinks none can see, for the one called Mercury. This I do not understand for I wholly believe Nemesis to be female as is Mercury. I shall ask about this.

    • Bolt: This one, he IS Mody in all ways. I have seen him place his hands on many females and do not understand why they allow it . . . well, not all allow it. Mercury has on more than one occasion sent this one flying with a simple movement of her hips. He is called Charlie though he complains at the name, preferring Carlos. He says many things of a perv nature to Wren and I wonder sometimes as her patience. If he ever tried to touch me as he has others, I fear Rocky might be forced to teach him a lesson in manners. If he is around I shall never take my human form for fear of drawing his eye. While I do not care for Belle because of her noise and grating personality, this one I do not care for because of everything he is.

    • Patriot: It is inconceivable that any human should allow such a child to enter into combat under any circumstance short of an all-out wraith attack on a home city. I have not observed him display any type of power or expertise in combat that defines all of the others. Though he seems to be very knowledgeable in the technology of this world, he is nonetheless a child and so lacks true experience with life beyond the classroom. I fear that should such as the wraith appear, this child will be the very first casualty.

    Note: Rocky is like a rock golem, Meatball is a small orange tabby cat, and Vanilla is a largish white rabbit. All three are like Pokemon to a Venomancer. She can summon them as required to fight for her or beside her. Also Rachel is not human but rather a race called ‘the Untamed’. She has two forms, a red fox and her ‘human’ form which happened to have bunny ears rather than human ones. So when she speaks of ‘her poor ears’ she could either be referring to noise, she has sensative hearing, or the occasional need to ‘fold’ her ears down to hide them as a human girl.

    Note: She refers to several friends from her home world, Thistle is an elven cleric who rescued Rachel during a battle. Wraiths are about comparable to ‘demons’ and come up from underground, particularly caves. They vary in size and form and power. Papa Dash may literally be her father as he, too, is Untamed as is ‘Unca Tad’ though I think Tad is an honorary uncle. Tad, though Untamed, has married a human girl, Boby. Nathaniel has been given the honorary ‘Papa’ because he reminds Rachel of Dash’s functions in her group. The term ‘tank’ is used to denote a powerful individual who will stand in the front and absorb damage … okay, I know any reader here knows what a ‘tank’ is if you’ve ever played an MMORPG. ‘Blademaster’ is the guy who runs into a cave and draws aggro from everything bad and pulls them to an ambush point where the rest of the team would be waiting. I make a lousy ‘Blademaster’ being a sniper at heart.

    Note: Mody is an annoying blademaster that was constantly hanging around Thistle and Rachel.

    Note: A ‘pyrogram’ is a fire magic spell.

    So, that’s what I end up doing with the characters in my stories, just so I can keep things straight as to who hates who.

    Whatcha think?



    Thankful for the Internet …

    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: General Thoughts

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    I prefer to try to fit real world stuff into my background stories. The 1962 Typhoon called Wanda really hit Hong Kong and killed hundreds. The Bei Jiang and Xi rivers exist. Yingdehong tea grows in the area near Yingde China. When it comes to foreign languages, like French Wren, I try to get it right but translation programs always screw up grammar. The Great Leap Forward killed an estimated 30 million Chinese. Shenyang J-6 jet fighters existed … that kinda thing. I always get caught up in the history of shit and get side tracked … but we have this fantastic tool at hand that makes nearly instant research possible.

    Thanks to Al Gore … FAKE NEWS!



    The Divine Farmer

    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: Characters, Fiction

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    August 26, 1962: East bank, Bei Jiang (“North River”), 22 kilometers south of Yingde, China

    For seven thousand years, since the legendary time of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, the lot of the Chinese peasant had changed little. Born to till the land in their hundreds of millions any hope of improving their place in the world was little more than a passing dream. At the age of seventeen a boy born to a farmer took up the harness of the ancient plow that had served his family for centuries and began to trudge across the field. Hard times had fallen abruptly on his family when one of the local Communist ‘warlords’ had taken their oxen to give to a favored cousin. Left with no option, the boy and his father had placed themselves in harness and, with his younger brother steering, dragged the plow from one side of the plot to the other. He had been thirteen at the time. Now, over four years later, he did not need the help of his father to pull the plow. Though not yet fully grown, at 187 cm, the boy stood nearly a head above any in the village. He had a broad, powerful chest, massive legs and the arms of a weightlifter. His strength was attributed to his years at the plow because in 1962, no one had ever heard the term ‘meta human’.

    The band of soldiers swept into the small village aboard rusted-out American deuce-and-a-half trucks left over from the Second World War though the Chinese-made assault rifles were much more recent. Quickly, efficiently, the soldiers piled out of the trucks and began a systematic search of each house, forcing the cowering peasants out into the open where they were herded into the small village center. Times had been hard in China with the failure of the Great Leap and the ensuing famines that were to cost China 30 million lives. The village and surrounding farms had been ‘collectivized’ several years earlier and all private farming outlawed. Now the soldiers had come for what little the exhausted land had given up.

    The boy was forced into the village square with his family and stood mutely watching as every last sack of the yingdehong tea the village grew was piled onto the waiting bed of a truck. Rage seethed within him knowing that the pile of sacks represented the money needed to buy food and was all that stood between his village and starvation.

    “What will we eat?” the village elder asked the soldier in charge.

    “Each other!” the soldier laughed and slammed the butt of his rifle into the elder’s face. “Kill them all!”

    Not one villager made a move as the man’s words penetrated then as rifles were raised to shoulders, the small crowd broke. None took more than a few steps before the bullets ripped into the cluster of humanity. Instinctively the boy turned to his sister and mother, covering them with his body. Blood erupted, people screamed, bodies fell, the young man toppled, covering his sister completely but leaving his mother exposed. When the last had fallen and the gunfire ceased the crunch of boots on the gravel was loud as the commander of the soldiers began to move through the corpses making sure all were dead with a shot to the head. When he reached the boy, he paused, then using the barrel of his rifle, tried to roll the youth over. He had seen the girl beneath move.

    A hand shot out to grip the barrel and twisted, bending the hardened steel like a pipe cleaner. A jerk on the gun pulled the soldier down and against the blood soaked young farmer. The man didn’t make a sound as the boy rolled onto his back, pulling the commander into a bear hug that snapped his spine. With a heave, the body slammed into three of the solders, sending them sprawling then the farmer was on his feet. In two steps he was on a pair of soldiers and slamming them together hard enough to crush their ribcages. The last lost his nerve and turned to flee but a sack of tea brought him down before he’d gone ten meters. The three on the ground, entangled with the body of their commander, fumbled to bring a weapon to bear, two succeeded but one managed only a single round before the weapon was empty and the other watched in horror as five rounds bounced off the young farmer.


    The pillar of smoke disappeared into the night as the boy used an oar to steer the small boat to the center of the Bei. There was no need to expend energy as the slow current pushed them south. Both were dirty but all traces of blood had been washed away. The boy, grim-faced, held his sister across his lap, her head resting against his shoulder. The girl’s tiny body was wrecked with sobs, her tear streaked face buried in a tattered and filthy rag doll. In the bottom of the boat were three sacks stuffed with tea leaves, two blankets, two stoppered gourds for water and a bag filled with the village’s meager stock pile of food that none there would ever need.

    Rolled up tightly and hidden within the shabby doll was the money the soldiers had been carrying which was far more than the boy would ever have been expected to earn in a lifetime. It would be a start in a new place and meant life for his sister.

    The next morning a squad of soldiers, seeking their tardy compatriots, rolled into the village to find a pile of blacked corpses and the burned out carcasses of the trucks and the tea nothing but ash. None lived to remark on the missing boat.


    September 1, 1962: West of Canton, China

    The journey down the Bei had been uneventful for the most part with only a single encounter with three PLA soldiers at a river crossing. Their interest had waned quickly when they got a closer look at the two and the battered boat. Peasants taking tea down to market, and that a very small amount of tea. Not worth the trouble to take and worth even less than the trouble selling the stuff would be. They let them pass unmolested and returned to their smoking.

    At dusk the following day the boy had pulled the boat up on the west bank of the river having spent the daylight hours constantly pushing off one sand bar after another. It had not been hard work but the numerous stops and starts had made it impossible for his sister to nap in her accustom place, his lap. Coupled with an increase in river traffic as the river meandered into more civilized regions the two had needed sleep as well as something hot to eat so the boy had nosed the boat into the shore at the base of a thickly forested hill.

    With his sister clutching his hand, the boy hoisted the boat, sacks and all up onto one shoulder and moved into the forest. There he found a sheltered hollow in a rock outcropping and settled them in. Long skilled at making fire without matches the boy soon had a small but comfortable fire going with a small pot of tea brewing. He shared out the day’s rations to his sister, a single stale loaf, all that remained of their scant provisions. Without hesitation broke the loaf into two pieces, presenting the larger to his sister. She took it eagerly and was already chewing her first bite when she noticed he had tucked his half away in their nearly empty sack.

    “Brother, why do you not eat,” she asked.

    “I am not hungry, little sister,” he replied. “I will eat it later.”

    It was an easy lie and she was too young to further question him so she finished her bread then moved off behind a rock to relieve herself. When she returned he had spread one of the blankets atop a pile of leaves and held the second out to her. She stepped into it and he wrapped it around her. Lifting her and laying her on the covered mound of leaves, he folded the edges up to cover her, creating a warm cocoon for her. She was asleep in an instant.

    The morning dawned clear and crisp with hint of what the day would bring. The boy presented the girl with the crust of bread he had stashed the night before and she took it without a thought. Once she was finished, he bundled all back into the boat and lifted it to his shoulder. Setting it once more into the river, he lifted her from the shore to the boat so as not to get her wet, and then climbed in after her. Though they did not know it they reached a confluence of the Xi and Bei rivers within an hour and found far more traffic than anything they’d encountered in their entire trip to that point. Power boats began to appear then the first large freighter cruised by nearly swamping their small boat with its wake.

    The little girl watched the second great vessel pass by then screamed in fear as the wave of its passing topped the boat’s gunwale and left nearly a foot of water in the bottom of the craft. Now paddling rather than letting the current carry them, the boy steered toward the east bank to clear the shipping traffic. Closer in to shore, though the wake of passing ships still presented a problem, they felt safer with the shallower waters.

    For hours the boy pulled the boat south into broader areas of the river careful only to note the passing of these larger vessels. Sometime after noon though, the river traffic disappeared. The boy lifted his head and scowled. From the east a thick layer of clouds rolled toward them and the fresh scent of rain reached his nose. A storm was coming and fast. Digging deep he pulled toward the nearest structure, a pier and squeezed the small boat in between the pilings into the darkness beneath.

    They spent the remainder of the day and all of that night tied up under the protection the pier offered as Typhoon Wanda roared inland from Hong Kong to dissipate. In its path 434 people died and 72000 were left homeless in the British Protectorate alone. It was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in Hong Kong.

    The two reached Macao two days later and were in Hong Kong the following day.


    December 31, 1962: Hong Kong

    The man grinned at the boy, his hand resting on the leg of the little girl. The boy wanted to kick himself. He had left her only long enough to run to the local inn for a meal and when he’d return, two men with guns were waiting. Now he stood in the office of the man he knew to be the boss of the local gang.

    “You have not paid your fair share,” the man said, stroking the girl’s thigh.

    The girl was tied and gagged, wearing only the thin shift she slept in.

    “What do I owe,” the farmer said through his teeth.

    “I think this girl will be enough to pay your debts,” the man turned his attention to little sister.

    It was the gangster’s last mistake. The three shots did not startle the six men in the other room, instead it elicited smiles and chuckles of amusement. They turned their attention back to the dominoes and beer. It was the sound of breaking furniture that made them pause. One, senior of the group rose from the table and pulled a Webley Mk IV .30/200.

    Of the nine men in the building that day, six died, and suddenly the boy found he was the new leader of the local gang. The first thing he did was change the way the gang made money. No more drugs, no more prostitution and especially child prostitution.

    May 10, 1963: Hong Kong

    “Brother,” the little girl said, her eyes wide as they watched the news report displayed on a wall of new television sets stacked in the front window of a Hong Kong department store. “Is he like you?”

    She sat on a broad shoulder, her small arm around the top of his head. On the screen a grinning Nikita Khrushchev stood before a bank of television cameras with one hand on the shoulder of a man dressed in a tight leather costume with a gold star on the chest. His face was covered by a domino mask that did nothing to hide the red glow of his eyes.

    “No, little sister,” he replied. “He is nothing like me.”

    Turning away he carried her back to the small room they shared, his mind turning over the possibilities.

    November 12, 1963: Near Hong Kong

    The first attack came at one of the border crossings from the PRC to Hong Kong, the weapon? A tank, a flying tank. It came from the PRC side of the border and landed on the roof of the border post building. The forty ton vehicle flattened the structure and killed the four men inside. Investigations, aimed at finding a way to lay blame on the British, could only conclude that the vehicle belonged to the PLA, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. How it flew nearly 50 meters to land atop the building was not explained until much later.

    December 22, 1963: Canton, China

    “I am Shénnóng, the Divine Farmer, and I have returned to restore China to the people!” read the flyers scattered around the military base. Crews armed with hoses battled the flames of the burning aircraft that half an hour before had waited in pristine glory for the call to defend the PRC, a call none would ever answer. Eleven new Shenyang J-6 jet fighters burned as the Chinese countryside erupted in a search for British or American saboteurs. No one noticed the young peasant with a little girl.

    March 10, 1964: Hong Kong

    ‘The Divine Farmer Sinks PRC Warship’ proclaimed the English language newspaper. The boy grinned as one of his men read it aloud. His campaign against the PRC was progressing and the Chinese government was in an uproar, totally at a loss to explain the military assets being destroyed by this so-called Divine Farmer. Hundreds had died in the sinking adding to the body count of this terrorist. Over forty tanks and two dozen aircraft had been destroyed but the sinking of the PRC’s Soviet built warship had been a stunning disaster. Three generals had been relieved, more than a dozen men had been imprisoned under suspicion of working with this Farmer but nothing was ever found.

    Little sister ran into the room dressed in a frilly pink dress, white calf-high stocking and patent leather shoes. Without hesitation she threw her thin arms around her brother’s neck and squealed with childish delight.

    “Do you see, brother,” she cried relinquishing her hug and stepping back. She spun on a toe, the dress flaring out.

    “You are very pretty, little sister,” he said with a gestured to the two men in the room. They stepped out, closing the door behind them. Only then did he gather the girl into his arms and hug her tightly.

    June 14, 1964: Taiwan, China

    The broadcast came from Taiwan and was instantly suspect by the PRC but there was no denying the costumed man’s demonstration.

    “I am Shénnóng, the Divine Farmer, and I have returned to restore China to the people!” the man announced, then tossed a tank into the ocean. The background was the Shanghai harbor.

    The Taiwanese announcer appeared on screen.

    “This film was sent to our studios from Peking and the Taiwan government does not claim any knowledge of actions taken by this individual.”

    World headlines the next day where rife with speculation of the world’s second ‘metahuman’. This one was not acting against criminals and for a government but in direct opposition to the vast power of the People’s Republic of China. Chinese newspapers labeled him the world’s first recognized ‘super villain’ and an enemy of the state. It promised massive retaliation against any nation that chose to harbor the man.

    Secret Identities would become the norm for all ‘metas’.




    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: General Thoughts

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    As I get into Wren’s background I find myself caught up in a web of thoughts. In this case it started with writing the fourth entry into Wren’s diary, this one about a summer she spent in Egypt at her mother’s estate. This is how my mind works … does she have family there? Of course, her mother is a native Egyptian. So who? Wait, let’s look up the name al-Rahani, her mother’s maiden name. Wow, it is a real Arabic name, good shot, Lauren … Guess what? There’s this famous Egyptian actor from the 20’s and 30’s. Oh, she’s gotta be related. So who is he married to? An actress and belly dancer who owned a club. Mmm … more fun. Well, I didn’t find anything about offspring from this duo so I was left to pretty much fill in whatever I wanted. So, out comes the timeline. Where do these two fit? What is their relationship to Wren. After making a few quick calculations, is turns out they are great great grandparents. Now to fill in the rest of her family.

    We all know Egypt was pretty chaotic in the beginning and middle of the Twentieth Century so we have to add great grand parents and grand parents. Let’s see … first, the fact that Wren’s mother is a Christian … guess what, so was her great great grandfather, the actor guy. HIS father was Iranian and a Catholic and his mother was Egyptian and Coptic. Ah, nice, the Christian part fits in right nicely. Anyway, Her great great grandmother, the belly dancer, was Lebanese and Syrian … boy she has a lot of Arab in her blood. So, made up great grandfather was killed in 1952’s Egyptian Revolution. Great grandmother is still alive when she visits in 1999. Now her grandfather, her mom’s dad, died in the 1967 war with Israel. Her grandmother, still alive too in 1999. There there is the extended family. Her great aunt, some 2nd cousins and finally a couple of 3rd cousins. These 3rd cousins come into play because we can’t have a 14 year old girl running around Egypt unescorted, can we?

    Great, oldest is a college grad, engineering, with a minor in ancient Egyptian architecture. See, Wren has this interest in ancient Egypt and this is where it comes from. Then there’s the younger cousin, about 16. He’s the one that’s going to get her into the clubs and trouble … Somewhere around here, the two of them are assaulted and Wren is forced to use her powers to defend herself for the first time. Just hope she doesn’t squash them flat.

    Anyway, thoughts on Wren’s background. As I wrote up the other three entries I stuck a couple of things that make up Wren’s personality … the car theft and a love for fast driving … the fact she is worried she will grow too tall and end up like her mother, with a man shorter than her … we all know how that turned out. And what I am working up to … the nudes of her on the internet … it has to be told … then I’ll follow it with her removal from her very last school and the attack that bring Ghost Archer and eventually Nathaniel Ryan into her life.

    As you can see I kinda wander when I am writing … because of that, I only have a paragraph for her next entry … which leads me to the next story I am going to post. It is a background, can you tell I love writing background, that I wrote some time ago when working on the history of Nathaniel and Wren’s world.

    The big question … What are metahumans and where did they come from? Come up with a few notable metas … Who was the first in the modern era? That would be the Russians … the story to follow is about the second though he is actually the first … super villain … well, to the People’s Republic of China, that is. Actually he is a very loving young man who is just trying to do what is right for the people and his country. Away, give it a read …



    Wren’s Diary III

    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: Characters, Fiction

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    My studies of Japanese progress thanks to the computer and a very good language program. After almost three months St. Someone of the Immaculate Credit Card is behind me and I am free for the summer. Father has offered the options of a villa in St. Tropez, a chateau at Interlocken, a trip back to Malibu or my Mother’s estate at Luxor.

    I made the mistake of St. Tropez last summer and found that for a then 12 year old, it was very boring. Sunburned northern Europeans interested in little save sex, drugs and partying held no attraction and I had spent most of my time traveling Italy. This proved to be taxing as Father insisted that I take a chaperone, in this case one Miss Agatha Greenwald. Yes, there are actually people alive still named Agatha. Sadly, she was a phenomenal bore caring nothing for art or dance. Her exaggerated glances at her watch as I strolled the museums of Venice and Milan or perched on the edge of my seat at the ballet did nothing to endear her to me. Half way through the summer I gave up and remained at the villa. This led to a series of escapes on my part in the evening hours. Unfortunately, even on the French Riviera, an unaccompanied 12 year old cannot gain entrance to any number of dance clubs. The other hazard was being mistaken for a child of the evening. During my third such ‘escape’ the gendarmes picked me up on ‘suspicion’. After they found out who I was returned to the tender mercies of Miss Greenwald the dratted woman took up station in my room each night for the rest of the summer. I took some solace in her general exhaustion.

    Interlocken was tempting as Switzerland in the summer could be quite beautiful but there was little that interested me culturally. Staying there would necessitate travel into Germany or Italy and I was not excited about having a second Miss Greenwald accompany me. Malibu, of all the choices, was the worst. Three months of Mother’s or Father’s sycophants traipsing in and out of the beach house would drive me to violence. There would also be ‘photo shoots’ and ‘premiers’ I would be expected to attend … Egypt it was.


    Wren’s Diary II

    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: Characters, Fiction

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    The only thing I regretted about my foray into automobile theft was that it cut short my education in Japanese. I resolved, however, to continue that on my own regardless of courses offered at any of my next schools. To this end I determine that two purchases would be necessary.

    To this point in my life I had little use for a computer seeing them as nothing more than expensive toys but my desire to continue my study of Japanese altered that view. With my rather limited connections with the world outside the various establishments I frequented I had no choice but to make my escape at the first opportunity in search of expertise.

    I purposely timed my arrival at my latest school for early on a Saturday morning which gave me sufficient time to catch a train for the nearest major city. In this case Brighton. While I had spent most of my life in the UK, I had never managed a trip to that tourist mecca and found it rather exciting. As chance would have it, the annual Brighton Festival was just beginning and I found myself surrounded by a myriad of possibilities.

    As one might expect, dance became my number one priority. What I found proved to be mostly quaint country folk cavorting to the tunes of quaint country musicians. This should not be interpreted as a lack of appreciation on my part but rather a difference of taste. I found, after perusing the handbills, something far more to my liking scheduled for an evening performance, a ballet. With that in mind I determined that my arrival at St. Someone of the Immaculate Credit Card should be delayed until later on Sunday. This gave me ample time to accomplish my original mission of locating a computer.

    Not one to waste time, I found an unengaged cab and requested the nearest electronics store. Only moments later I found myself assaulted by no less than three overly eager young men anxious to assist me. Two were disappointed as I did not require either television or an MP3 player, the third proved to be more than happy to show me the latest in portable computers.

    To this point my infrequent shopping expeditions mainly concerned apparel and had always been conducted with young women. I found this young man to be condescending to a degree that nearly sent me out seeking other options but I quickly learned that this one store was the only available source of laptop computers. With a sigh, I accepted this annoying young man as my guide into the computer world.

    He began with a tutorial on the basics of a computer, explaining to me as if I were a dull child, the components and their tasks. When he began to repeat himself my patience ended. I asked three questions. Which company was the most reputable? Which model would provide the longest service life? And did they sell the particular software I sought? When he began to explain, once more, the merits of a series of laptops, I stopped him, pointed to the computer I had decided upon and asked for the software.

    What followed was a rather blatant attempt to scare me into the purchase of an ‘extended warrantee’, followed by ‘deals’ on the purchase of a printer, an external hard drive, software for word processing, anti-virus programming and an offer to ‘show me around the festival’. All of my experience to this point in my life, having been essentially raised in an all-female environment, did not prepare me for this last. I was unsure how to react for an instant, then I considered. I am thirteen, he is probably twice my age, not an auspicious first date request. When I informed him of my age it did not appear to deter him which I found disturbing. I declined and also declined giving him my ‘number’ or where I was living. I believe the term is ‘he creeped me out’.

    With my newly acquired laptop in hand I concluded a place to stay for the night, and incidentally deposit my purchases, might be next on the agenda. Unfortunately I did not take into account the hordes of tourists that had descended upon the city. Lodging, it seemed, was at a premium but finally I found a suite at a hotel fronting the beach. It seemed someone in management recognized the name on my AMEX card and I found myself in a rather luxurious room with a reasonable ocean view for a mere £250. This was exorbitant by my estimation as my new high-end laptop had cost only about four times that amount.

    My luggage had been forwarded to St. Someone’s leaving me with nothing but what I wore. On my way through the lobby I had noted a small boutique and that was my next stop. Here I was once more in a comfortable situation and the young woman that helped me soon had me outfitted for the ballet. Seeing the tone of the festival I did not go full formal but I did insist on at least an understated gown and a pair of glorious heels. I included undergarments as I had no desire to wear what I had after a bath.

    The bath, a large claw-foot affair was quite literally in the room with the bed. A folding wall was provided but being alone I felt no need. I must say that for the price of the suite, the choices of bath salts and such did not disappoint. Selecting appropriate music on the sound system, I shed my soiled clothing and slipped into a nice hot bath.

    I must say that I am easily seduced by a good bath and found on emerging that over an hour had passed, not that I was in a hurry. Using the hand shower I quickly washed my hair then wrapped in a towel, sat at the vanity. The last few hours, both on the flight from Strasbourg and train ride to Brighton, had ruined what little makeup I employed. With the hotel provided hairdryer, I considered my face.

    My skin was darker than the average ‘white’ person though obviously natural and not a tan. Olive, I have been told, inherited partly from my Arabic mother but mixed with the pale tones of my Irish father. My hair, too, was a mixture, with the lustrous black of my mother but the curl of my father’s auburn. A highlight of red had been commented on in the past when I stood in direct sunlight. The ambient lighting of the room was not enough for me to pick this out.

    Many of my features melded mother and father but one was all my mother’s, my height and body structure. I was tall for a thirteen year old. I was also tall for a woman in general and suspected I was not finished growing. At nearly 175 cm I secretly hoped I would not be growing any more as I had first-hand knowledge of the height differences in couples. My mother was 180 cm and my father 170 cm. This difference was even more pronounced when my mother wore anything other than flats and Heaven forbid that she should wear even 7.5 cm heels.

    My mother’s genetics has also given me her slender figure though I had yet to develop in the area general thought of as attractive to males. I was not totally flat but a bra was not yet a necessity. This evening I wore one however, not wanting to ruin the lines of my gown. Perhaps one day I might more nearly equal my mother? Another thing I was forced to adopt by the cut of my gown was pantyhose. I detest pantyhose but for the sake of the fall of the gown, I would endure.

    Forty-five minute before the curtain, a car provided by the hotel arrived at the entrance to whisk me away to the theater. My first shock of the evening came when a young man in livery opened the door for me. At least a dozen people began taking pictures with one rather pushy woman thrusting a microphone in my face. I was not prepared for this though it was not unfamiliar. Apparently my name had escaped from the hotel and I was now doomed to be hounded by people with nothing better to do than harass innocents noted only for their parents.

    My second surprise came when I reached the ticket office. I had not considered that a ballet in Brighton would be so well attended. When I asked for a seat, the ticket agent apologized and informed me that they were sold out. Crestfallen, I resigned myself to calling a cab and returning to the hotel when a gentleman in evening wear offered me a seat in his box. It first I did not recognize him, having paid only minimal attention to my father’s career but when he introduced himself I did recognize the name. Over the years he had directed my father in a series of action movies that even now had fans clamoring for the next sequel.

    The evening provided a third surprise in the ballet. It turned out to be far better than I had anticipated. The leads displayed a precision and depth of emotion unexpected in a minor ‘country’ troop. At the end, even I found myself on my feet with cries of ‘bravo’. When my evening companion and I emerged, a steady rain had sprung up and I despaired at finding a cab but when the director’s car appeared, he graciously offered me a ride back to the hotel. All and all, it was a pleasant evening but being soaked to the skin, it did require a second hot bath.

    I do enjoy the small things.


    First Combat

    Written by Ghost Archer. No comments Posted in: Campaign Stuff, Fiction

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    “Alright,” Mark said as his eyes roamed over the small assembly. He pointed at Christiana. “You tell me there is nothing I can teach you when it comes to hand to hand, prove it!”
    Chris stood and stepped between Josh and Slater then past Nat. She paused long enough beside the huge young man to hand him a pair of pointed foot-long wooden dowels. He took them without comment but made a mental note to ask her where she kept hiding those things, especially when all she wore was a traditional school gym outfit consisting of a short sleeved collared red shirt, comfortable blue shorts and tennis shoes with nearly knee high socks.
    The girl stepped to the edge of the mat and tied her long blonde ponytail into a compact knot at the top of her head. Rolling her head on her shoulders to loosen up she stepped onto the padded thickness. Without a sign, Mark rushed her, obviously intent on tackling her. She sidestepped then backed toward the center of the mat allowing Mark to recover from his charge.
    “If you expect to catch me so easily, you either underestimate me or overestimate yourself.”
    She dropped into her combat stance, hands low and open.
    “You know the first rule of combat?” Mark snapped.
    “There ARE no rules in combat,” Chris replied.
    The toe of her left shoe caught Mark on the chin, snapping his head back and making him stagger slightly.
    Damn, he’d felt that.
    Two quick steps and he was inside, throwing a right cross. Chris dropped low under his swing and swept his feet, dropping him onto his back. With a touch of apprehension he rolled away and to his feet. This girl was actually hurting him! This time, he waited to see what she’d try next.
    She came at him fast, spinning at the last moment to deliver a round house kick that bypassed his prepared block. He took it just under the left arm and found himself sprawled on the mat 10 feet from her. As he came again to his feet she waiting. Damn those legs. She was keeping him at her best range. He had to get inside where his superior strength would be more than she could handle.
    There are no rules … without hesitation he was in the air and hurdling at her from somewhere near the ceiling. Chris caught his fist and twisted, for the third time he hit the mat. As he rolled over to sit up, she was on him and her small fist slammed into his solar plexus, driving his breath out. Thing went black.
    A face swam into focus, Cari’s. She was kneeling beside him looking extremely worried.
    “How long have I been out,” he said, pushing himself into a sitting position.
    Both teams sat on the bleachers talking, no one but Cari paying any attention to him. At the sound of his voice, Chris came to her feet and stepped down onto the gym floor. She offered him a hand and when he took it, pulled him to his feet. He could feel Cari’s tension as she stood beside him.
    “Maybe half a minute,” Chris answered his question.
    “Holy shit!”
    “They wouldn’t let me get a nurse,” Cari’s glare alternated between Mal and Nat.
    “I hadn’t done anything permanent,” Chris said. “It was just a matter of time.”
    “How long did that whole thing take?”
    “Ten seconds.”
    He rubbed the left side of his chest and could feel just the slightest tenderness where her last kick had landed. Something had changed in him, he could feel it. Just yesterday have his clock cleaned like that by a girl would have sent him into a towering rage but today, after, he just didn’t feel it. Scanning his audience he saw only the pensiveness of people awaiting the explosion … at least from his own team. Ryan’s team was surprising neutral about the whole thing. He would have expected some kind of ridicule or at least a snide comment from Wren. Draping an arm around Cari’s shoulder and squeezing gently he turned his attention to Chris. There was no triumph in her eyes and no scorn.
    “We okay?” she said.
    “I have trained with the best the US Rangers have to offer,” he began. “Top veterans, masters of martial arts. Not one has ever put me down. You’ve had me on my ass three times, the last could have been for good.” He lowered his head and shook it slowly. “I gotta admit … you are better than me.”
    Their eyes met.
    “I have to be the best I can be,” she said softly. “One slip and I’m dinner … or someone else is.”
    “You’re pretty damn fast,” he commented. “Where did you get your combat training?”
    “The Vatican,” she replied.
    Both of Mark’s eyebrows shot into his hairline.
    “The Vatican! Why would the Vatican teach combat?”
    “Vampires,” Chris said without inflection.
    “There’s no such thing,” Mark laughed.
    “Nor demons, nor black wizards, nor the Devil,” she said.
    All mirth disappeared.
    “Not every ‘meta’ is of a natural origin, Ranger,” Chris told him.
    “You’ve seen a vampire . . .”
    “Three,” she replied.
    Mark could feel Cari shiver under his arm.
    “What did you do?”
    Chris almost snarled. “Staked them.”
    Mark’s eyes snapped to Nat then the rest of the second team. They were not laughing.
    “Where and when was this?” Mark’s posture had relaxed; both his confrontational attitude and his mirth vanished.
    All he received was a small shake of the head.
    “There really are vampires?” Cari whispered.
    Chris nodded.
    “And demons and the Devil?”
    Chris nodded again.
    “Satan? THE Satan?” Shannon breathed. Unconsciously her hand slipped under Ern’s elbow and she leaned against him.
    “There is God,” Chris said. “And since there is God, there is Satan but I pray it is not Satan, himself, that ever comes.”
    “Amen,” whispered Shannon.
    “There are a lot more things we have to worry about than a couple dozen metahumans that decide having super powers is their road to riches,” Nat said.
    “I believe Agent Miller knows far more about what we might encounter then he lets on,” Mal said.
    “He prefers to keep his lab rats in the dark,” Wren agreed bitterly.
    “Your team’s had a year with this program,” Nat said. “You ever get any info from Miller about what you are expected to face?”
    Mark shook his head. “Not a word.”
    Wren rolled her eyes.
    “My team can get access to that kind of thing,” Nat told the first team leader.
    “How,” Mark said suspiciously.
    Nat smiled, “We have contacts.”
    The double doors of the gymnasium flew open and Miller strode in, followed by Mr. Left and Mr. Right as the Legacy Team had come to call Miller’s underlings.
    “Combat training is over,” the agent said.
    “Cliff, sunset,” Nat whispered quickly to Mal, the closest of the first team. She gave no sign of acknowledgement.
    “As it is painfully obvious, Miss Gilchrist has had extensive hand-to-hand combat training and so she will take over this portion of team two’s training,” Miller ordered. “Mr. Law will continue his instruction of the first team. Now, I suggest you return to your floors and use what little time remaining to do a little studying. SOME of you need it.”

    Wren and Nat strolled across the small quad toward the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. They spoke in low whispers.
    “We have to blind and deafen Miller’s little spies,” Nat said.
    “God, yes,” she said. “I am so tired of editing everything we . . . I do.”
    “I wonder if we could get Q to make something up that will blur their cameras,” Nat considered. “Can’t come from me though, he doesn’t think I am very b r i g h t.”
    “He’ll do anything Mark asks of him,” Wren said, her hand slipping into Nat’s.
    They had reached the edge of the cliff. Fifty feet below, the surf pounded against the rocks, effectively deafening any type of listening device that might be trained on them.
    “He more than a little afraid of you, you know,” Wren said looking up.
    “Mark?” Why? We’re on the same team, sorta,” Nat replied.
    “Miller,” she said. “I’ve watched him the last few times he’s come to lecture us. His eyes rarely leave you and there’s fear there.”
    “Prolly worried I’ll stuff him into a trashcan or give him a swirly,” Nat smiled.
    “I suspect he WAS the target of some practical jokes when he was in school,” Wren nodded. “His personality does scream ‘I am going to get you back for this’.”
    “Yeah, I think he resents our having powers he’ll never have.”
    Mal crossed the courtyard and headed for the cliffs then looked up, feigning surprise when she noticed the couple ahead of her.
    As she neared, she raised her voice to cut through the sounds of the ocean.
    “Shall I come back another time?” she asked.
    “Nah, join us,” Nat replied with a grin. “Just talking about a project.”
    “I came instead of Mark,” Mal said when she reached them, her voice slightly lower than a conversational tone. “I figure it would be less suspicious then the two team leaders meeting.”
    “We are becoming regular conspirators,” Wren observed.
    All three took a moment then to turn to the west and watch as the sun disappeared into the ocean.
    “We need to find out how they are spying on us and where the safe areas are,” Nat said still facing the sea. “Also we need a way to defeat them.”
    “I’ll get Mark to put Q on that, he’ll love the challenge,” Mal replied.
    “Thanks,” Nat replied.
    “What Chris said … ”
    “Yes, we killed three vampire in Old Town last weekend,” Nat admitted.
    “There was nothing in the paper,” Mal said.
    “How about that house fire?” Nat looked over at her.
    “That was you?”
    “We had three teams there hunting this little ‘coven,” Nat said. “Thralls, actually, since vampires tend to burst into flame in the sunlight.”
    “So that part is true?”
    “Thank God the holy water and cross thing as well,” Wren replied.
    “And the wooden stake through the heart,” Nat added.
    “So that’s why she carries those stakes,” Mal said. “By the way, where … ”
    “I have no idea,” Nat replied with a smile. “And I am afraid to ask her.”
    “Here comes Mr. Right,” Wren observed.
    “I thought I was Mr. Right,” Nat grinned at her.
    “Oh, you are, Nathaniel, you are.”