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Original Uncle Grubb's Mysterious Mansion

Discussion in 'Quests' started by JMHthe3rd, Aug 14, 2015.

  1. Threadmark: Part I: Chapter One
    [​IMG]

    JMHthe3rd Presents:
    Uncle Grubb's Mysterious Mansion
    Table of Contents

    Chapter One
    Soft, brown clouds trail from the tires as you drive the SUV and the attached trailer down the dirt road through the woods. It's a sunny August afternoon, but thick leaves overhead cast a gloom broken by only sporadic peeks of day. Gnarled trees seem to lean in menacingly as you pass.

    In the passenger seat beside you, your twin sister, Helen, mugs for yet another selfie, though she won't be able to post it until you get back. There's no coverage out here in the sticks. You're cut off. A stray bit of gravel kicks into the vehicle's undercarriage and rattles unsettlingly as if there's something beneath clawing from the earth. You hope you don't have a breakdown here. It's a long walk back to the redneck town of Huckley.

    "I hope the house is haunted!" says your little sister, Maribel, from the backseat. "I mean, it has to be, right? It's like a hundred years old. All the ghost are probably bored and waiting for someone with an Ouija board."

    "Ghosts," mutters Eddie, your little brother. He snorts. "None of that shit's real. After you die there's nothing. We're all just chemical meat puppets."

    "'Meat Puppets,'" repeats Helen. "Isn't that a band?"

    "My Chemical Meat Puppets," you whisper, and you both snicker.

    "Ghosts are real!" Maribel cries. "I've read like eight books on them. I'm going to record their voices on tape, and then I'm going to become a world famous parapsychologist!"

    "Whatever," Eddie says. He puts in his earbuds and glowers out the window, his teeth idly clicking against his lip rings. He's become more of a dick than usual recently, but you know the last few weeks have hit him harder than he lets on.

    "Bert, do you think I'll be able to contact mom and dad?" Maribel asks. "Or . . . or anyone? I know they didn't die here, but ghosts can fly place to place, right? Or I guess they can use telepathy."

    "Somehow, I don't think Uncle Grubb's house is haunted," you say, "but if it is, I'm sure they'll stop by to say hi."

    You exchange a sad look with Helen. You're all grieving in your own ways, but Maribel's new obsession with the paranormal has you worried. You don't have the heart to tell her it's all bunk.

    Turning carefully down the winding path, you pass a half-collapsed stone cottage overgrown with weeds. It's picturesque, like something from an oil landscape. You recollect it vaguely.

    The last time you were here was seven years ago, during your Great-great Uncle Grubb's final Christmas. His lifelong smoking habit had finally caught up with him; he never saw the New Year. The passing of his estate turned out to be a Gordian knot of legal issues because apparently he'd written your great-grandfather and his descendants out of his will . . . but then drafted a second will that contradicted the first. You're still not sure of all the lawyering ins and outs, but every branch of your family's been squabbling for his stuff ever since.

    Or at least they were until five weeks ago. There was a family reunion. And a bus crash. Fortunately, you and your siblings were in a different car.

    After a slew of wakes, funerals and meetings with attorneys, you found you've inherited, among other things, Uncle Grubb's estate--including this spooky mansion in the back woods of North Texas. For the weekend you plan on inventorying his effects, and you know this is going to be hard. It'll be like digging through a grave, and there'll be so many questions with no answers. No longer can you pick up an old photo and ask, "Hey, grandpa, who's this?" And neither can you ask your dad nor your mom nor your uncles, aunts and cousins. You've lost so much it seems unreal. You feel alone.

    But you're not, you remind yourself. Your family rides with you in this SUV. You four are the last of the Springwells.

    Helen points at a shallow creek peeking through a grove of oak trees. "That leads to that lake I was telling you about, Maribel. Me and Pookie went swimming there last time." She laughs. "You remember that, right?"

    "I remember, Goosie," you say, using her nickname back. "That place was . . . weird. You really want to kayak in that? I ended up covered with ticks and leeches."

    "'Covered?' There were only like a couple. Okay, three, four tops. And besides, kayaking is not swimming. We'll be fine." Helen turns in her seat to look at Maribel. "Uncle Grubb once told me there's a cave in the bottom where the 'Deep Ones' live. They're ugly fish people from those Cuh-thul-hoo books."

    "Cthulhu," Eddie corrects without looking up.

    "Is the cave real?" Maribel asks, suddenly interested.

    "The cave might be real," you say, "but there's no such thing as 'Deep Ones.'"

    Maribel is unconvinced. "If ghosts are real, then fish people can be real too."

    You sigh. "Sure. I guess."

    Another couple of turns, and you see the house, a gray, gloomy, three-story Victorian-Era mansion. It's always looked rundown, but the past seven years have been especially cruel. A few windows are cracked or smashed. The rotten wood siding peels like dead skin. Broken shutters hang like crooked teeth. A wayward tree branch invades through the west wall.

    You pull into a gravel driveway all but reclaimed by weeds.

    Maribel sits up and points beside the house. "Look, a graveyard! That means there has to be ghosts!"

    You forgot about the cemetery. It's not very big, and some of the tombstones are so old they're toppling. Could your first ancestors in Texas be buried there? 'Springwell' is an Anglicized form of the German 'Springenwelt,' though you don't know much about your family's history. Maybe Uncle Grubb left some records.

    You all step out into a heat so humid it might as well be the jungle, though the low-hanging clouds cast the sky with an almost winter dreariness.

    "We're spending three days here?" Eddie sneers.

    "Yeah, you'll love it," you say. "Come on, everyone grab a bag. Let's get inside."

    Weighed down with luggage, you all amble up the stone steps to a pair of doors fitted with fogged glass panes. You insert the old fashioned key into the lock, and as you turn the metallic grinding echos unnaturally as though large unseen machines are waking from a long slumber. You hear the click. You open the doors.

    Well, at least bats didn't fly into your face.

    Eddie hums the first few bars of Bach's Toccatta and Fugue. It fits. You're hit with the smell of must. Cobwebs drape like vines from the vaulted ceiling. Crossing the checkerboard floor, you pass from the vestibule into the great hall. White sheets cover the chairs and sofa and look like crouched ghosts in the weak sunlight filtering through the dirty French windows. An ornately carved staircase curves to the second story. Along the balcony you spot an black suit of medieval armor, flanked on either side by rows of old portrait paintings.

    It's just like you remember, only a lot dustier.

    "This is so cool!" Maribel cries. "It's like a house from Scooby Doo!"

    "Yeah," Helen says unenthusiastically. She pulls off her Ace Rimmer sunglasses and squints her honey-brown eyes disapprovingly. "This is . . . rougher than I expected. I don't want spiders eating me while I sleep."

    "It'll be cramped, but we can stay in the trailer if we have to," you say. "But it won't be so bad once we clean this place up a bit. We'll even have lights once we set up the generator."

    "Yeah, but no internet," mutters Eddie.

    "Screw the internet. I want to ride my dirt bike," Maribel says. "I can ride my dirt bike, right, Helen?"

    "Of course, but only with me."

    "And wear your helmet," you add with a frown.

    The idea of your two sisters careening around the woods on motorcycles conjures stomach-churning images of them in wheelchairs or coffins. But you're not your dad: it's not like you can forbid Helen from doing what she wants. And it should be safe for Maribel as long as she's with a responsible adult, and Helen's at least one of those.

    Honestly, you're not happy with how Helen's treating this trip like a vacation, bringing along kayaks and bikes and even skateboards. She wanted her girlfriend to come, but though you'd never admit it, you're glad Roberta couldn't get out of work. She's obnoxious and even a little intimidating, and she seems to bring out the worst in your twin.

    And on top of that, Helen seems to have become a little unhinged after your parents' deaths, growing more reckless and with weirder mood-swings. It's got you worried.

    But then, you've always been the levelheaded one. While Helen's already dropped out of college, you've done very well in your classes. Currently, you're majoring in [medicine], though you also have interests in [first aid], [history], [literature] and [Latin]. You're not much of the physical sort, but you have dabbled in [Muy Thuy Kickboxing].

    Walking along the hall, the wood floor creaking under your feet, you come to an open door beside the entryway to the kitchen. On your previous visits, you're pretty sure this room's always been locked. You peek inside. It's a study. Piles of papers clutter an ancient mahogany desk, and some have spilled onto a cracked leather armchair. An overburdened bookcase takes up the back wall, its bowed shelves crammed with everything from paperbacks to manila folders to massive leather-bound tomes. The light from the window gives a sheen to the white dust that covers every surface.

    Perched on the corner of the desk is a framed black and white photograph of a young woman in a dark Victorian dress. She's beautiful, but there's something strange about her you can't quite put your finger on. Nearby is a glass display case holding a variety of artifacts: a stone tablet etched with runes catches your attention, as well as the large skull of what you guess must be some great ape. A great ape with three eyes.

    Helen taps you on the shoulder. She's taken off her backwards snapback, and her mess of long, blond hat hair makes her look as if she's just woken up.

    "Pookie, we're going to explore the rest of the house; you want to come?"

    That sounds fun: most of the house you've never seen, as Uncle Grubb was very restrictive about letting his guests wander. And it couldn't hurt to keep an eye on your siblings. Maribel tends to get into mischief, and Eddie sometimes lacks common sense. And Helen is . . . Helen.

    But on the other hand, you want to spend some time in this study. It looks like it could have useful records, not to mention the various curios that warrant investigating. Your brothers and sisters should be fine: Helen isn't stupid. And how dangerous can a spooky old house be?

    Your twin raises an eyebrow, awaiting your answer.

    [ ] Stay in the study and dig through Uncle Grubb's stuff. Tell Helen, Eddie and Maribel to stick together.
    [ ] The study's not going anywhere. Explore the house with your family. But where should you explore first? The first floor? Or upstairs? You've never been up there. How about the basement?
    [ ] Write in.

    Anything specific Herbert should do? Feel free to elaborate.

    Pick Herbert's skills:

    [College major]
    [Mental Skill]
    [Mental Skill]
    [Mental Skill]
    [Mental Skill]
    [Physical Skill] (can be combat, but must be realistic)

    Note: This is crossposted to SB, SV and QQ, votes will be pooled.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2017 at 2:09 AM
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  2. Threadmark: Cast of Characters


    Dramatis Personae
    [​IMG]
    Herbert "Pookie" Springwell
    • Age: 19
    • Gender: Male
    • Height: 6'2
    • Weight: 170lbs
    • Hair: Blonde
    • Eyes: Blue
    • Bookish, lanky. Wears hornrim glasses.
    • Strength: Good
    • Dexterity: Above-Average
    • Intelligence: Near Genius
    • Perception: Good
    • Willpower: Good
    • Health: Good
    • Academic (Moderate bonus to academic and research-related skills).
    • Antiquarian (Moderate bonus to history, literature and other related skills)
    • Language Talent (Note: Burt isn't particularly aware of this)
    • Slightly Nearsighted (Wears glasses)
    • Bookworm
    • Worries a lot
    • Skeptical, levelheaded
    • A bit of a square
    • Special bond with twin sister.

    Languages

    • English (Native)
    • Latin (Fluent)
    • 'Germanese' (Accented, Written)
    Mental Skills
    • Computer Operation +5
    • First Aid +6
    • History (America, 19th and 20th Century) +5
    • Literature +6
    • Medicine +5
    • Research +8
    • Writing +6
    Physical Skills
    • Driving (Automobile) +2
    • Guns (Shotgun) +1
    • Muy Thuy Kickboxing +1
    • Minor wound to chest (pellet)
    • Superficial wound to upper right arm (pellet)
    [​IMG]
    Helen "Goosie" Springwell
    (Hebert's twin sister)
    • Age: 19
    • Gender: Female
    • Height: 5'9
    • Weight: 130lbs
    • Hair: Blonde
    • Eyes: Light brown
    • Pretty, lanky, tomboy
    • Strength: Average
    • Dexterity: Very Good
    • Intelligence: Bright
    • Perception: Good
    • Willpower: Good
    • Health: Good
    • Artificer (Slight bonus to mechanical related skills).
    • Musical Ability (Slight bonus to music-related skills)
    • Natural Athlete (Moderate Bonus to athletic skills)
    • Pothead
    • College dropout
    • Lesbian
    • Tomboy, snarky, reckless
    • A little unstable
    • Special bond with twin brother.

    Languages

    • English (Native)
    Mental Skills
    • Artist (Drawing) +2
    • Computer Operation +4
    • Mechanic (Classic Automobiles) +4
    • Mechanic (Generators) +3
    • Musical Instrument (Drums) +3
    Physical Skills
    • Bicycling +8
    • Driving (Automobile) +5
    • Driving (Motorcycle) +6
    • Guns (Rifle) +4
    • Muy Thuy Kickboxing +5
    • Skateboarding +7
    • Sports (Softball) +7
    [​IMG]
    Edward Springwell
    (Herbert's little brother)
    • Age: 16
    • Gender: Male
    • Height: 6'1
    • Weight: 140lbs
    • Hair: Dark blond (dyed black)
    • Eyes (Blue)
    • Lip rings. Skinny, gloomy teenager
    • Strength: Average
    • Dexterity: Above-Average
    • Intelligence: Genius
    • Perception: Very Good
    • Willpower: Good
    • Health: Good
    • Wizard (World-Jumper)
    • Computer Wizard (Slight bonus to computer related skills)
    • Occultist (Slight bonus to Occult related skills)
    • Poet (Moderate bonus to writing-related skills)
    • Straw Nihilist
    • Gloomy, sullen, snarky
    • Plays pen-n-paper RPGs
    • Drinks cough syrup
    • Kind of lazy
    Languages
    • English (Native)
    Mental Skills
    • Computer Operation +6
    • Hobbies (role-playing games, video games, science-fiction novels) +6
    • Mental Strength +1
    • Runology +2
    • Writing +9
    Physical Skills
    • Bicycling +2
    [​IMG]
    Maribel Springwell
    (Hebert's little sister (adopted))
    • Age: 12
    • Gender: Female
    • Height: 4'8
    • Weight: 80lbs
    • Hair: Black
    • Eyes: Dark Brown
    • Little girl. Black. Usually keeps hair in ponytail.
    • Strength: Weak
    • Dexterity: Good
    • Intelligence: Near Genius
    • Perception: Good
    • Willpower: Very Good
    • Health: Good
    • Wizard (Aeromancer, possibly a minor World-Jumper)
    • Psientist (Heavy bonus for Psi related skills)
    • Curious
    • Gets into mischief
    • Interested in the paranormal
    • Likes video games, anime
    • Thinks Helen is cool
    Languages
    • English (Native)
    Mental Skills
    • Computer Operation +5
    • Hobbies (anime, video games, and the paranormal lore) +5
    • Magic (Aeromancy) +1
    • Mental Strength +6
    Physical Skills
    • Bicycling +5
    • Driving (Motorcycle, dirtbike) +4
    • Skateboard +3
    • Sports (Soccer) +4
    • Tae Kwon Do +3
    • Moderate wound to right hand (2nd degree burn)
    • Moderate wound to left hand (2nd degree burn)
    [​IMG]
    Roberta "Bobbi" Zacarias

    (Helen's Girlfriend)

    • Age: 22
    • Gender: Female
    • Height: 5'7
    • Weight: 150lbs
    • Hair: Black
    • Eyes: Brown
    • Butch, 'bad boy' style, tattoos
    • Strength: Above-Average
    • Dexterity: Good
    • Intelligence: Clever
    • Perception: Above-Average
    • Willpower: Good
    • Health: Good
    • Artificer (Moderate bonus to mechanical related skills)
    • Driver's Reflexes (Slight bonus to driving related skills)
    • Musical Ability(Slight bonus to music-related skills)
    • Pothead
    • Addiction: Nicotine
    • Reckless
    • Butch lesbian
    • Owns a restored 1970 Ford Galaxie 500.
    • Maribel thinks she's cool.
    • You and Eddie don't
    Languages
    • English (Native)
    • Spanish (Accented, Spoken), (Fluent, Written)
    Mental Skills
    • Computer Operation +3
    • Hobbies (Prog Rock, Southern Rock, 80's music) +4
    • Hobbies (Classic Automobiles) +5
    • Mechanic (Classic and Modern Automobiles) +7
    • Mechanic (Classic Motorcycles) +6
    • Mechanics (Generators) +5
    • Musical Instrument (Guitar) +4
    • Streetwise +2
    Physical Skills
    • Bicycling +5
    • Muy Thuy Kickboxing +5
    • Driving (Automobile, Motorcycle) +6
    • Skateboard +4
    • Fatigue
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2016
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  3. Threadmark: Inventory
    Inventory
    Vehicles and Homes
    • Water: 5-gallon water jugs (4)
    • Fuel
      • Gas can
    • Vehicles
      • Dirt bikes (2)
      • Kayaks (2)
      • Skateboards (2)

    • Armor
      • 'Doughboy' Helmets (Light Armor, skull) (4)
      • Gasmasks (4) (Very light armor, face)
      • Deep Ones body armor (Medium-Heavy Armor, torso and groin) (4)
      • Webbed kilts (4)
    • Water
      • 5-gallon water jugs (3.5) (One has partially leaked)
      • Bottled water (13) (Alcove)
    • Food
      • Food for three or four days (1/2th of a day used)
        • Boxes of snacks, sandwiches.
      • Mini-fridge (damaged or destroyed)
      • Styrofoam cooler
      • Deep Ones 'MREs' (not recommended for consumption) (12)
    • Medicine
      • First aid kit (Alcove)
      • Deep Ones First Aid Kit (x3)
      • Misc. Medicine (Alcove)
    • Weapons
    • Ammo
      • Box of ammunition for the Golden Revolver (100 bullets, blunt tip) (2 boxes) (Cardboard box, Alcove)
      • Box of ammunition for the Golden Revolver (14 bullets, 'Stilettos'?) (Cardboard box, Alcove)
      • Box of ammunition for the Golden Revolver (2 bullets, 'Ice bullets'?) (Cardboard box, Alcove)
      • Box of .38 Special (50) (Bedroom behind stairs)
      • Boxes 9mm Parabellum (No inventory taken, but hundreds of rounds found in the basement) (Basement, Alcove)
      • Boxes of 7.57Ln Shot Shells (83) (Basement, Alcove)
      • Boxes of 7.57Ln Slug Shells (77) (Basement, Alcove)
      • Box of 7.57Ln Black Stilettos (10) (Basement, Alcove)
      • Box of 7.57Ln Thunderfists (6) (Basement, Alcove)
      • Box of 7.57Ln Atomic Wrath (5) (Basement, Alcove)
      • 12 gauge shot (x136)
      • 12 gauge slug (x100)
      • 12 gauge slug (rubber) (x45)
      • 12 gauge slug (silver) (x48)
      • Tranquilizer dart (x34)
    • Camping Supplies
      • Changes of Clothes
        • Button up shirt bloodstained, off. In basement.
      • Floor lamps (4)
      • Propane Generator (repaired by Roberta and Helen, not recommended for charging electronics)
      • Fuel: 5-gallon propane tanks (8)
      • Tents (4)
      • Misc. camping gear
    • Electronics
      • Eddie's laptop (Alcove)
      • Maribel's Tablet (Alcove)
      • 1950's Portable Radio (Destroyed?)
    • Research Items/Artifacts
      • Hieroglyphic book
      • Old computer (Destroyed?)
      • Volume 1 of Uncle Grubb's Journal
      • Various books and letters taken from the library and bedroom
      • Severed head (Deep One)
    • Tools/Hardware
      • Ax
      • Box of Nails and Screws
      • Bundle of Rope (2)
      • Chainsaw (Rusted)
      • Claw hammers (2)
      • Collapsible ladder (12ft, can telescope to 24ft)
      • Drill
      • Electrical Tape
      • Hacksaw
      • Hatchet
      • Hedge Clippers
      • Hoe
      • Jumper Cables
      • Machete
      • Needlenose Pliers
      • Road Flares
      • Roll of Twine
      • Rope
      • Shovels (2)
      • Sledgehammer
      • Tacklebox with fish hooks and string.
      • Tire iron
      • Wood floorboards, 3ft long (5)
      • Wood planks (12)
      • Wrenches and pliers

    Personal Inventories
    • Armor
      • Normal clothes (Jeans, button up shirt, shoes, etc)
        • Derby hat
        • Tweed Jacket
        • Fresh blue shirt
    • Weapons
      • .38 Special Revolver (Loaded: 6/6 rounds)
        • Ammo: Box of .38 Special ammo (50 bullets)
      • Leather scabbard for shotgun
      • Ammo
        • 7.57Ln Shot shells (4, shirt pocket)
        • 7.57Ln Slug shells (3, shirt pocket)
    • Personal Effects
      • Wallet, Drivers Licence, Credit Cards
      • $300 Cash
    • Electronics
      • Smartphone
    • Keys
      • Keys
      • Galaxie Keys
    • Ring of old fashion keys
    • Magic Items
    • Artifacts
      • Strange Newspaper
      • $560 in Earth-1901 money
    • Utility/Tools
      • Flashlight
      • Spoon
      • Brass telescope
    • Armor
      • Normal Clothes (T-shirt, jeans, sneakers, snapback hat
      • Hiking Vest (Very Light Armor: Torso)
    • Weapons
      • Elvish Carbine (Loaded: 6/9 rounds, Black Stilettos)
        • Boxes, (~250 bullets, 27 'Black Stilettos')
        • Extra cylinders (2)
      • Aunt Esha's saber
      • Ammo:
        • 7.57Ln Shot Shells (4)
        • 7.57Ln Slug Shells (4)
        • 7.57Ln Thunderfists (3)
    • Personal Effects
      • Wallet, Credit Cards, Etc
      • Cash?
      • Keys
      • Glass Pipe
      • Lighter
      • Bag of Marijuana
      • Sunglasses
    • Electronics
      • Smartphone
      • Earbuds
    • Magic Items
      • Copied runic diagram ('Anti-Fog')
    • Artifacts
      • A few Teddy Roosevelt 'novelty dollars'
    • Utlity/Tools
      • Flashlights
      • Spoon
      • Olive-green canvas bag, moldy (contains Carbine ammo).
    • Armor
      • Normal Clothes (T-shirt, jeans, shoes, etc)
        • Homburg hat
        • Black, knee-length coat
    • Weapons
      • Golden revolver (loaded: 8/8 Ice Bullet rounds)
      • Ammo: Box of 93 bullets for the golden revolver
      • Holster for golden revolver
    • Personal Effects
      • Wallet
      • Cash?
      • Keys for SUV
      • Bag of marijuana (bad quality)
    • Electronics
      • Smartphone
      • Earbuds
    • Magic Items
      • Copied runic diagram ('Anti-Fog') (x2)
    • Atifacts
    • Utility/Tools
      • Flashlight
      • Spoon
    • Armor
      • Normal Clothes (t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, etc)
    • Electronics
      • Smartphone
      • Earbuds
    • Magic Items
      • Heartstone
    • Copied runic diagram ('Anti-Fog')
    • Utility/Tools
      • Flashlight
      • Spoon
    • Armor
      • Normal Clothes (Workshirt, Jeans)
      • Leather Jacket (Very light armor for torso)
      • Boots (Very light armor for feet)
    • Weapons
    • Personal Effects
      • E-cig
    • Electronics
      • Smartphone (dead?)
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
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  4. Threadmark: Notes and Reference
    Notes & References


    General Notes and Background

    Story Background
    • Five weeks before the story begins, a bus crash wipes out most of the Springwells on their way back from a family reunion.
      • You, Helen, Eddie and Maribel were riding in Helen's car, and thus were spared.
    • As the last of the Springwells, you've inherited Uncle Grubb's estate. Each of you has about $700,000, though Eddie and Maribel can't touch their inheritance until they're eighteen.
    • The story begins on August 7th, 2015. You plan to spend three days inventorying Uncle Grubb's effects.
    • You drove to the mansion in a blue Dodge SUV towing a trailer. The trailer is stocked with camping supplies.
    World Events
    • 1927: A chemical plant explodes near Innsmouth, Massachusetts, killing hundreds and contaminating the surrounding coast. The government orders an evacuation and cordoned off the town. To this day the fenced-in area is known as the Innsmouth Exclusion Zone.
    • Late-1930's: H.P. Lovecraft contracts an illness that causes his hair to fall out and tumors to grow on his skin. He is put into an insane asylum, but escapes and is never seen again.
    • 1998: A physics experiment at the Black Mesa Research Facility caused mass psychosis, requiring military intervention. Stories concerning the incident are contradictory and frequently absurd.

    Characters
    • 'Springwell' is an Anglicized form of the German 'Springenwelt.'
      • You've just learned it means 'World Jumper.'
      • If Uncle Grubb's journal is be believed, your original family name was 'Wettin-Ernestine'
      • Your family are apparently bearers of the 'World-Jumper' gene.
    • The Springewells have supposedly lived in Texas since the Republic
      • But Aunt Rudy said that was all made up.
        • It seems she is right.
    • Springwells tend to be tall, lanky and blond. Maribel called them 'tall skinny beanpoles.'
    • Grubb, Fulbert and Hilda were tall with narrow, Nordic features which gave them a regal bearing.
      • They had long faces with deep set eyes, aquiline noses and prominent cheekbones.
      • Later in life they had wavy white hair.
      • Current evidence suggests Fulbert and Hilda were siblings.
    Herbert Springwell "Pookie" (You)
    [​IMG]
    Alternate Picture
    Physical traits and description
    • Age: 19
    • Hair: Blonde
    • Eyes: Blue
    • Height: 6'2"
    • Weight: 170lbs
    • Wears horn rim glasses
    • Wearing a button up blue shirt and jeans
    • You're the strongest of your siblings.
    • Large hands
    • Right handed
    Personality and Abilities
    • Pre-med student
    • History buff
    • Bookworm, enjoys literary classics and historical fiction
    • Has some experience in Muay Thai Kickboxing
    • Worries a lot
    • Skeptical, levelheaded
    • A bit of a square
    • You find Roberta obnoxious.
    • Apparently is a 'muggle,' possessing little magical ability.
    Background
    • At a young age, you and Helen were distinguishable only by her longer hair.
    • You were at Uncle Grubb's house during the Christmas of 2001. You and Helen played with action figures in the front yard.
    • You were also at Uncle Grubb's house during the Christmas of 2002. It was snowing. You got stuck in the oak tree by the tool shed after trying to rescue Helen.
    • You went swimming in Uncle Grubb's lake during the Christmas of 2008. Got ticks and leeches.
      • Helen, Jeff and Desiree were there
      • (See: Locations: Lake)
    • You and your twin once dressed as Raggedy Ann and Andy.
      • Worst. Halloween. Ever.
    • First smoked weed when 16, with your twin sister.
      • The pizza man gave you a funny look, and you became . . . excessively paranoid.
    • Once went on a duck hunt with Uncle Stewart during the Autumn of 2012.
      • You later claimed you found the sport barbaric, but secretly you enjoyed the hunt.
      • Helen bagged more ducks than you.
    Helen Springwell "Goosie" (Your twin sister)
    [​IMG]
    Alternate Picture
    Physical traits and description
    • Age: 19
    • Hair: Dirty Blonde (with highlights), long
    • Eyes: Light brown
    • Height: 5'9"
    • Weight: 130lbs
    • Wears a snapback hat, 'Ace Rimmer' sunglasses, All-Star sneakers
    • Wearing a blue tie-dye shirt and ripped jeans.
    • Wearing a navy blue hiking vest (very light armor)
    • The most athletic among you, though lacks upper body strength.
    • Has a tattoo of the Dark Side of the Moon prism on her upper arm.
    • Right handed
    Personality and Abilities
    • Picked up some auto-mechanic skills from Roberta
    • Skilled with skateboards, dirt bikes
    • Skilled in Muay Thai Kickboxing
    • Can play the drums
    • Pothead
    • College dropout
    • Lesbian
    • Tomboy, snarky, reckless
    • Texas Rangers fan
    • Used to play softball
    • Has become a little unhinged after the bus crash, growing more reckless and with weirder mood-swings
    • Likes beer, but not hard liquor
    • Apparently is a 'muggle,' possessing even less magical aptitude than you do.
    • Not much of a reader
    • Good shot with a rifle.
    • Accomplished doodler
    Background
    • At a young age, you and her were distinguishable only by her longer hair.
    • Was at Uncle Grubb's house during the Christmas of 2001. You and her played with action figures in the front yard.
    • Was also at Uncle Grubb's house during the Christmas of 2002. It was snowing. Got stuck up the oak tree by the tool shed.
    • 2007: Won a Rangers cap at a fair. Wore the hat every day.
    • Went swimming in Uncle Grubb's lake during the Christmas of 2008.
      • You, Jeff and Desiree were there.
      • She tossed her Rangers cap into the water. Never got it back.
      • See: Locations: Lake
    • Was into poetry when she was thirteen (~2009). Had a crush on Katie Garrison.
    • She and Herbert once dressed as Raggedy Ann and Andy.
      • Worst. Halloween. Ever.
    • Once went on a duck hunt with Uncle Stewart during the autumn of 2012.
      • '"Uhg," Helen says. "Uncle Stewart spent the whole trip drinking beer and bitching about Obama."'
      • She bagged more ducks than you did.
      • She used a 20ga, though she can handle a 12ga.
    • Was estranged with her parents after she came out.
      • Her mother's last words to her: "I have nothing to say to you."
    • Has a girlfriend named Roberta.
      • They've been talking about getting married.
    Eddie Springwell (Your little brother)
    [​IMG]
    Alternate Picture
    Physical traits and description
    • Age: 16
    • Hair: Dirty Blonde (dyed black)
    • Eyes: Blue
    • Height: 6'1"
    • Weight: 140lbs
    • Wears lip rings
    • Wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans
    • Has 'skinny arms,' not athletic.
    • Has the 'World-Jumper' gene.
    • Left handed
    Personality and Abilities
    • Is a fan of H. P. Lovecraft
    • Familiar with Worm, ROB scenarios: possibly a member of SB/SV.
    • Likes to write
    • Skilled with computers
    • Straw Nihilist, in a 'goth phase'
    • Gloomy, sullen, snarky
    • Plays pen-n-paper RPGs
    • Used to be into Dragonball Z.
    • Drinks cough syrup, has a history of substance abuse
    • Doesn't like Roberta.
    • Can see through the heartstone
    • World Jumper
    Background
    • Ride a tricycle in the front yard of Uncle Grubb's house, Christmas of 2001.
    • Friends with someone named Brandon.
    • Has only shot handguns. The recoil from your father's Super Blackhawk (.44 Magnum) nearly whacked the gun into his face.
    • Made a hissy fit in front of the whole family reunion
      • "I was arguing with mom and dad, right before they got on the bus. They weren't going to let me go to Europe with Brandon, even though we'd been talking about it for months, and I was so pissed. I was like, 'Fuck you! Maybe I'll just ditch you like Goosie did!' and then mom slapped me."
    • His experience with the heartstone:
      The warm surface touches his palm. His eyes widen, and it happens.

      Color drains from the room; the floor-lamps gutter. The stone darkens and shines like the brilliant halo of an eclipsed sun. Eddie's face is lunar pale.

      His black t-shirt and jeans are clothes-shaped voids.

      There's an unseen disjunction, and it jerks the world like a nicked wire sliding across a razor edge. An abyss gapes in your mind. You shiver with cold as the light slowly returns.

      The ball has fallen from your brother's grasp. He sits on the stool, chewing his lip rings. Trembling, he stares at you with madman eyes, the whites visible all around his ice-blue pupils.

      "Eddie . . . " you say.

      "Burt . . . I . . . I'm a wizard."

      You breathe a nervous snicker. "You're telling me!"

      He rocks in place. His teeth chatter. "I could see forever, Burt! I . . . I touched existence! There's something behind the curtain. Something beautiful. Something terrible. I . . . I just don't remember what it was."
    Maribel Springwell (Your little sister (adopted))
    [​IMG]
    Alternate Picture
    Physical traits and description
    • Age: 12
    • Hair: Black
    • Eyes: Dark Brown
    • Height: 4'8"
    • Weight: 80lbs
    • Wearing a green t-shirt and jeans
    • Keeps her hair in a ponytail. When it's out it forms a bush like a troll doll.
    • Eddie sometimes calls her 'Munchkin.'
    • Apparently is a 'Wizard'
    • Left handed
    Personality and Abilities
    • Interested in the paranormal
      • Has read eight books on ghosts.
      • Wants to be a 'world famous parapsychologist'
    • Likes to skateboard, rides dirt bikes
    • Has taken Tae Kwon Do classes
    • Plays soccer
    • Gets into mischief
    • Likes video games, anime, Doctor Who
    • Thinks Helen is cool
    • Thinks Roberta's cool too.
    • Has a friend named Emily.
    • Magical powers (Psychokinesis? See 'Magic Powers and the Heartstone Effects')
    Background
    • Uncle Grubb talked your parents into adopting her.
      • 'Since you were a little kid, you were told that, 'Uncle Grubb found a baby who needed a home, and that's where your little sister came from,' and that story was so often repeated that it became an unquestioned narrative in your life.'
      • 'Only now does it seem odd. Where did an eccentric octogenarian recluse living in a house filled with inexplicable knickknacks 'find' a black baby in need of adoption? Did someone drive through all these woods and leave Maribel on his doorstep?'
    • Her experience with the heartstone:
      A gale wind blasts you in the face. You stumble backwards into the computer desk. A pale blue aura pulses from the heartstone cupped in Maribel's hands. Her dark eyes shimmer, and her kinky hair sways like serpents. She grins ecstatically. Is she growing taller? No, you look down and see her little sneakers levitating inches above the floorboards.

      Dust and drywall particles gather around her and swirls into a miniature whirlwind. From their shelves, books jiggle free and bob in the air like half-filled helium balloons. The broom rises erect and spins on its axis.

      Your heart pounds. A seashell roar fills your ears. Eddie stands beside you and watches your floating sister in wonder. Helen is backed against the wall, her eyes wide in disbelief.

      "I'm a wizard!" Maribel cries with glee as she kicks her feet. With two fists she thrusts the heartstone above her head where it shines like a cyan star. "I'M A WIZAAAAAAARD!"
    • Eddie theorizes she might be descended from Sloka (Elfstar).
    Roberta (Helen's girlfriend)
    [​IMG]
    Physical Traits and Description
    • Age: 22
    • Hair: Black
    • Eyes: Brown
    • Height: 5'7"
    • Weight: 150lbs
    • Wearing a gray workshirt, jeans, boots and a leather jacket.
    • Has hair in a pompadour.
    • Called 'Bobbi' for short.
    • Right handed
    • Athletic, thick, sometimes mistaken for a teenage boy.
    • Tattoos, including a full sleeve on her right arm.
      • Along with a 1950's pinup girl, '3D' Escheresque patterns, and a coiling snake, there's now the word, 'RENEGADE' running down her forearm, while on her bicep the image of Private Vasquez glowers with a pulse rifle. Roberta's right arm is relatively bare, giving a lopsided appearance.
    Personality and Abilities.
    • She's an auto-mechanic
    • Is a musician
    • You and Eddie think she's annoying
    • Maribel thinks she'd play a good 'female Ash.'
    • Has a 'bad boy' attitude, walks with a swagger.
    • Reckless
    • Her and Helen have been talking about getting married.
    • Butch lesbian.
    • Is a muggle, even more so than you and Helen.
    Background
    • You used to take Kickboxing classes with her.
    • Her uncle knows taxidermy.
    • Owns a restored 1970 Ford Galaxie 500.
      • It's a scrapyard rescue. She restored it with her uncle.
      • 'Worn leather crinkles under your weight. You grip the padded steering wheel and inhale the grimy, oily scent permeating the black interior.'
      • Is a stick shift
    • Had a hard time in the Fog.
      • Roberta looks like hell. Her pompadour is a messy black mass; her broad face is blotchy and sunken, the tawny skin uncharacteristically ashen. Going by her cracked lips and tearless sobbing, she's likely dehydrated. Her gray auto shop work shirt is stained with long-dried sweat. Dirt cakes her jeans, boots and the worn leather jacket tied around her waist.
    • On her keys are a penlight, a Rainbow fob, and a Led Zeppelin bottle opener.
    Your parents
    • They had a number of firearms in their house. They were kept locked up
      • Includes rifles and shotguns (Including a Marlin 1894)
      • Ruger .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk
    • They did not take Helen coming out of the closet very well.
      • '. . . while they didn't disown her, they weren't exactly on speaking terms either.'
    • Died in the bus crash.
    Aunt Rudy (Your Aunt)
    • Mother of Desiree
    • Was drunk a lot of the time.
    • Said a lot of the Springwells' supposed history was made up, said there was 'crazy crap' in the family
    • Died in the bus crash
    Desiree (Your cousin)
    • Daughter of Aunt Rudy
    • Followed the 'Lanky Aryan' template that characterizes your family.
    • A pretty strawberry redhead. Was a couple years older than you.
    • In Christmas, 2002, she made fun of you when you and Helen were stuck up the oak tree.
    • Stole cigarettes from her mom.
    • Was a bit of a snob.
    • You went with the lake with her during the Christmas of 2008
      • She refused to get in the water.
    • Died in the bus crash.
    Uncle Stewart (Your Uncle)
    • Father of Jeff and Shane.
    • Husband to Aunt Cindy
    • Bitched a lot about President Obama
    • You and Helen went on a hunting trip with him in the autumn of 2012.
    • Had a 'horsey snigger' laugh
    • Died in the bus crash.
    Jeff (Your Cousin)
    • Son of Uncle Stewart and Aunt Cindy
    • Followed the 'Lanky Aryan' template that characterizes your family.
    • Tall and scrawny. Was about your age
    • In Christmas, 2002, he made fun of you when you and Helen were stuck up the oak tree.
    • A bit of a redneck.
    • Went 'pond dipping' all the time back home.
    • You went swimming with him in the Lake during the Christmas of 2008.
    • Had a laugh that was a lot like his father's.
    • Died in the bus crash.
    Shane (Your Cousin)
    • Son of Uncle Stewart and Aunt Cindy
    • Liked Dragonball Z.
    • Died in the bus crash.
    Your grandparents, Great-Uncle Freddy, Aunt Cindy, Cousin Richie,
    • All died in the crash
    • Your grandfather gave you a biography on Frederick the Great during the Christmas of 2008.
      • The book was soaked in the Lake.
    Gerbern Springwell "Uncle Grubb" (your great-great uncle)
    • Tall with narrow, Nordic features, giving him a regal bearing.
    • Later in life he had wavy white hair.
    • Had a German accent (Or Austrian. Or maybe Dutch)
    • Tended to look distracted, unhappy.
    • Would sometimes disappear for long periods of time.
    • The Springwells would sometimes have Christmas over at his house.
    • He was very restrictive about which places in the house guest could go.
    • Was viewed as an eccentric recluse.
      • "Trust me, he was weird. He never married. He never needed a job. He just sat around this house for like sixty years."
    • Talked your parents into adopting Maribel.
    • While n pain medication, told Helen about the Deep Ones that live in a cave under the Lake.
    • Died in late 2008 from lung cancer, was in his eighties.
    • Had written his brother Fulburt and his descendants out of his will, but later drafted a second will that contradicted the first. His estate was tied up for years.
    • Evidently the father of Sloka ka V'Janahavabor ("Elfstar")
    • According to his journals,
      • He's 'Gerbern Ernestine-Wettin, Reichsgraf of New Dresden, Welt-Springer and great-great-great-grandnephew of Sigivald the First, Sarvesara-Kaiser of Greater Jaganma.'
      • Held the rank of Korvettenkapitän in the Kaiserliche Marine.
      • Held a Doctorate in theoretische physik
    • Was kind of racist.
    • Owns property out in the Guadalupe Mountains, out in West Texas.
    • Locked Esha into a 'Time Jar' to prevent her from dying from leukemia.
      • This was unwilling on Esha's part.
    Fulbert and Hilda Springwell (Your great-grandparents)
    • Current evidence suggests they were siblings.
    Esha ku V'Janahavabor (Your great-great aunt?)
    • Picture
    • Evident wife of Uncle Grubb
    • According to her passport (1904):
      • Race: Elf
      • Height: 4'6"
      • Age: 27 Earth Years
      • Occupation: Domestic Servant
      • Note: '"So, she's Aesiran," Eddie says. When you raise your eyebrows, he explains, "The two-headed dragon, that's their flag. And as far as anyone knows, they're the only steampunk elves around. But it doesn't add up: in the book, the Aesirans didn't meet the humans until like 1913, after Teddy Roosevelt got eaten by Morlocks. So, how could 'Esha' immigrate to the US in 1904? She must have lied about where she came from. And why are Uncle Grubb and Papa and Mama in those old pictures? Did they come from Aesiria too?"'
    • Mother of Sloka ka V'Janahavabor
    • According to Uncle Grubb's journal:
      • She's a gifted runologist
      • Is the eldest daughter of an elvish 'Makha.'
      • Was a child prodigy
      • Loves mythology and poetry
      • Plays the harpsichord
      • Won the Purple Dragon in women's fencing
      • Attended Zaila University where she studied runology, archaeology and linguistics.
      • Received a commission of Leutnant zur Luft in the Kaiserliche Marine
    • Possibly the grandmother or great-grand mother to Maribel.
    • Gymnast
    • Left handed
    • Was diagnoses with leukemia in the late 1950's. Uncle Grubb trapped her in a 'Time Jar' to save her life. She is still in there.
    • Your aunt is shorter than Maribel; she wouldn't reach your elbows. But otherwise she's proportioned like any normal, slender woman. Knife-tip ears peek from wavy ginger salted with stray whites. Thin lines bracket her mouth and crease her forehead. Mid-to-late thirties?
    Sloka ka V'Janahavabor "Elfstar" (Your third-cousin, twice removed?)
    • Picture
    • Son of Uncle Grubb and Aunt Esha
    • Sixties rock star 'Elfstar,' who was in the psychedelic band Mission to Bellona
    • Began a cult in the 1970's.
    • Claims to have magic powers.
    • Owner of the 1966 Chevy Truck
    • Current status unknown.
    • Possibly the father or grandfather to Maribel.
    • In 1920, on Earth-1901, he purchased land around Black Mesa, New Mexico.
      • Black Mesa is 'Foggy' land.
    • By the late-70's (our timeline) he became disillusioned with his cult and wanted to help the Elves on Earth-1901.

    People and Factions
    United States: Initially stayed out of the war against the Aesiran Republic.
    • Known Colonies: New Oregon
      • Cavorite mines.
    • People of Interest
      • Hamer: Current Governor of Texas
      • Jedidiah Marsh: Governor of Massachusetts in the 1920's
      • William McKinley: 25th President of the United States. Assassinated by a cultist in 1901.
      • Rockefeller: President of the United States in 1932.
      • Theodore Roosevelt: 26th President of the United States. Eaten by Morlocks in 1913.
      • Clarke Savage Sr.: Father of the famous millionaire crime-fighter. On the $50 bill.
    European Powers Alliance: Formed in 1920 as a mutual defense pact.
    • Great Britain
      • Known colonies: Avon, New Bristol
        • The Aesiran Republic bombed these colonies in 1932, triggering the war.
      • Had Daedelus Class aerial destroyers
    • France
    • Germany
    • Russia
    • Austria-Hungry
    • Italy
    • Spain
    • Portugul
    • Sweden-Norway
    China and Japan: At war with each other in 1932.

    The Aesiran Republic: On the 'super-continent' of Jaa'hana, 75,000 miles from Earth-1901. Communist state. Formally the Jaganma Reich.
    • Extensive colonies.
    • Known cities:
      • New Dresden
      • New Dortmund (both German enclaves)
    • Known institutions:
      • Thaumatological Academy of New Dortmund
      • Zaila University
    • Known military forces.
      • Sorcerors Corps
      • Special Airborne -- Elvish special forces. Use telepathy for coordination.
      • Navy
      • Venda Ka Infantry.
    • People of Interest
      • Karr V'Janahavabor: Consul of the Aesiran Republic. Telepath and Aeromancer. Member of Sorcerers Corp.
    Confederation of Swan Kingdoms: Neighboring country to the Aesiran Republic. Evidently allied with the United States.
    • Swan Flag
    • Known cities.
      • Zapaport
    • People of Interest
      • Meero D'Mirsky (Historical): Captain in the Confederate Navy (180-243 N.E.) Adventurer. Explored the Venda Ka Wastes. Disappeared in the Duellona's Fog for twenty-one years.
    Zurain: Elvish civilization in range of Earth-1901. Presumably primitive.
    • Esha's passport claims she's from Zurain.
    Diagnus Corperation: Elvish business? Produces television sets?
    • 'Nicky Jr.' and 'Doc': Co-inventors of the 'Tesla-Savage D3-800 Television Sets.'
    Eirohm Family:Dwarven arms manufacturers. Based in Jaganma.
    • Eirohm Firearm Company
    • Widari: Member of the Eirohm Family. Adventured with Uncle Grubb.
    Far Pacific Company: Mentioned in newspaper.
    Henry Ford
    Sears Roebuck

    Clay County Militia

    FBI Monster Squad

    Texas Rangers

    • Colonel Winstead: A Texas Ranger
    Hayburners: Motorgang. Fifty strong. Recruited a pyromancer. Raided Archer City last night.
    • Charlie 'Boss' Parker: Leader of the gang. Drives an armored Buick with a .30 machine gun.
    Werewolves: Werewolves based in the Dallas Anthrax Zone.
    • Have begun abducting children.
    • Are vulnerable to silver.
    (Historical)

    The Dicers Six Gang
    : Robbed a Sacramento bank in 1921.
    • Rough Cut' Zarzola: Leader of the gang. Zurain immigrant. A 'ferro-specialized psychokinetic.' Used levitating circular saw blades. Decapitated journalist Dorothea Lange.
    Bakala-Doom: Elvish shaman. After her daughter was lynched during the 1925 'Easter Witch Hunt,' she inflicted a 'plague of rats' on the Massachusetts town of Rowley, killing thirty-six and forcing an evacuation.
    Deep Ones: An aquatic race known to interbreed with humans. Infiltrated the Massachusetts town of Innsmouth. The ones which attacked you had access to eatly 20th century gear.
    • Esoteric Order of Dagon: Innsmouth based Deep Ones cult. Worship 'Dagon.'
    Church of Starry Wisdom:Another cult. Mentioned in On God's Ring: The Great Transmigration and the New Age of Colonialism
    Charles A. Beard: Historian. Author of On God's Ring: The Great Transmigration and the New Age of Colonialism

    Hereford Carrington: Psychical researcher. Author of Psychical Phenomena Among the Elves. Wrote an opinion piece about in the New York World Telegram.

    Charles Davenport: Eugenicist. Wrote an opinion piece in the New York World Telegram..

    John M. Keyes: Wrote a summary of the Aesiran Republic in New York World Telegram..

    Nikola Tesla

    'Nicky Jr.' and 'Doc'
    : Co-inventors of the 'Tesla-Savage D3-800 Television Sets.'
    Father Coughlin: Radio personality in the Massachusetts area. Rabidly Anti-Elf. His rhetoric was partly responsible for the 1925 Easter Witch Hunt.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Author famous for Sherlock Holmes and the Lost World. In this world, he also wrote The Lost Treasures of Min'Karanda

    Dorothea Lange: Photographer and journalist. Decapitated by the Dicers Six Gang.
    Veda Autry and Jimmie Rodgers: Country singers. Veda is performing in Austin, Texas this Sunday.
    Edgar Cayce

    Locations
    A small town recently attacked by the Hayburner gang. Sixteen killed, including the sheriff and deputy.
    • Capital of Texas.
    • Country singer Vera Autry is singing there for the Zilker Thanksgiving Day Parade.
    • Apparently, werewolves are living in this area.
    • The Confederacy of Swan Kingdoms (CSK) Navy has dispatched gunboats to patrol the ruins.
    A small town a ways nouth of the Mansion.
    The nearest town to the Mansion. A few miles south.
    In your own time, in your own world, Huckley was a sleepy patch of redneck suburbs en route to Uncle Grubb's. Your family never stopped there, except maybe for gas, but during those childhood Christmas trips, the weathered bungalows and mom-and-pop shops would flaunt their colorful lights, Santas, snowmen and every other kind of gaudy winter decoration. When you drove through yesterday morning, however, the town was bereft of that Holiday veneer; it seemed sunken and run-down, a community past its prime.

    In that regard, at least, this alternate Huckley is the same, though you recognize none of the dilapidated homes and buildings lit by the highway streetlamps. In the center of town, a twinkling sign shows a cartoon cook leering over a heaping plate of hamburgers. In the restaurant's front lot sit four or five 20's and 30's-style cars. Two pedestrians hop from a pickup but are too distant for details.

    To the west of Huckley, a rotting farmhouse and barn slump in an overgrown pasture. To the east, a stately manor dominates surrounding fields. Lights gleam from its French windows.

    Closer north, guarding the highway, a small watchtower squats on its stubby wooden poles. Sandbags fortify its lookout hut. It's too dark to see if anyone's inside.
    The sixth and last is in better condition and features a large group photo of about a score of military personnel--elves in front, humans in rear. The elves wear blue flight suits and patrol caps and have dusky, Mediterranean skin tones. The humans are all tall, black men in forest camouflage fatigues and steel helmets, and with rifles slung over their backs. They tower over their diminutive comrades. Behind the ensemble, a gray, riveted hull fills the background.

    Below the picture:

    These are Your FRIENDS
    They Fight for FREEDOM
    In the sign's upper corner is the image of a pair of flags, the first being the Stars and Stripes, the second, an azure banner with a stylized white swan, a golden crown within its breast. Six additional crowns clutter the left hand white stripe, while the right hand stripe has three golden . . . feathers?

    You gingerly pull off onto the grass and creep the Galaxie behind a thicket of shrubs. You park and climb out. Eddie scans the billboard with his flashlight.

    Many in the picture are grinning. A few are smoking. A soldier with a braided beard puffs a curved pipe. An airman in sunglasses has a sly arm around a smirking female crew member. In the middle of the first row, a fortyish man in an aviator jacket scowls grumpily. Ribbons dangle from his epaulets; a golden winged emblem adorns his cap.

    Eddie's beam drifts to a cloud of whitewash smearing the sign's bottom. The coating has faded enough for you to decipher the thick red graffiti beneath: NIGGERS GO HOME!
    Happy Chef Diner -- Just Ahead!
    Open Late
    Hamburgers -- Fried Chicken -- Pork Chops -- Eggs -- And More!
    Coke -- Milk -- Juice -- Beer
    Special: Steak & Taters -- $1.25
    We Accept Swan Cash

    • In the center of town, a twinkling sign shows a cartoon cook leering over a heaping plate of hamburgers. In the restaurant's front lot sit four or five 20's and 30's-style cars.
    Ahead: Ida Joe's Gas Pump & Inn
    Fill 'er Up! Rest a Spell!
    Rooms: $6 a night
    Breakfast
    Supplies
    Coloreds & Elves Welcome
    We Accept Swan Cash
    Visit Doc Patterson's Clinic
    Free Pus-Pox Inoculations!
    Protect Yourself & Your Family!
    100 Davis Road
    Open Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm
    Confederate Currency Accepted
    A small town which suffered an outbreak of 'puspox.' Three dead, five terminal. Currently quarentined by the National Guard.
    A small town east of the Dallas Anthrax Zone. A FBI Monster Squad recently killed six werewolves there.
    A city near the Texas/Oklahoma border. Is the origin of the radio station.
    • The mansion's located in the Henrietta Woods in North Texas
    • A winding dirt road leads to the house.
    • Along the road lies a half-collapsed stone cottage overgrown with weeds.
    • A shallow creek runs near a grove of oak trees. It leads to a lake where you and Helen went swimming during the Christmas of 2008.
      • 'The path veered alongside a burbling creek, and as you all drudged deeper into the woods the feeble light dimmed further to ashen gray. A foreboding hung in the brisk air, as if an unseen boulder teetered on a precipice.' (2008)
      • See: Lake
    • A trail also leads to the lake: 'The four of you setted out on an overgrown trail which creeped through the woods like a dirt whisper. Gnarled, leafless oaks loomed on either side, and though it was a clear afternoon, the arching branches sieved the sunlight to a twilight drizzle. The crunching of your footsteps echoed from the shadows.' (2008)
    • 'But even if the weirdness stayed hidden, these woods always bore for you an uncanny unease.'
    • Around a bend, and you arrive at the 'border.' Severed branches and vertically bisected trunks follow the powdered glass scar grafting the landscapes in a graceless union. On the far side, the leaves bear a richer shade of autumn: a November palette to your August.

      You stop and get out, and together you and Eddie kick aside the gritty, potentially tire-shredding silica dust. A wispy, smoky smell wafts in the cold. Above, through the blasted gap in the foliage, pale Ringlight illuminates the boundary of dismembered trees. How wide is this circle? A quarter mile?

      "I doubt Uncle Grubb's World-Jumping was this conspicuous," you say.

      Eddie tongues the pinholes in his lip. "Yeah, looks like a Jedi lumberjack ran through here. When we leave, we should re-brick Aunt Esha. And hide anything important."
    • Uncle Grubb once told Helen there's a cave at the bottom of the lake where the 'Deep Ones' live.
      • He was on pain killers at the time.
    • The four of you passed between a pair of withered willow trees, and there beyond lay the lake.

      The last time you were here you were five or six and hiking with your parents. That memory now was only a faint imagining, and so when you walked to the bank's steep edge and peered across the dark waters, you felt as though you trod upon an abandoned dream.

      It was a spooky scene, but a nice place to read your book.

      A fog drifted amid the oaks on the far shore, its sickly luminescence silhouetting the trunks and bare branches. You spotted an old iron lamppost and the vestiges of a small dock. You wondered when they were last used.
    • You saw a runic stone in the water: 'The water grew inky farther out, but by your feet you saw the pebbles and grit of the lakebed. Among them, a black stone square caught your eye. It was a foot or so wide, and you could just distinguish the etched white cross. You squatted closer and noted the symbol was comprised of hundreds of overlapping spirals. Through the lake's ripples and depth, the thin lines jiggled unnaturally. Your head began to ache . . .' (2008)
    • The water was warmer than you expected.
    • Kicking and paddling after your twin, you found the heated water a strange, primal comfort, as though you both had returned to the womb. You relaxed. You submerged. Darkness scrutinized you. An abyss waited below.

      It was only when your lungs ached that you knew you were drowning. You thrashed in weightless panic as you somersaulted and flipped, striving for wherever 'up' lay. You scrabbled and prayed.

      Finally, you gasped the cool air.

      "There you are!" Helen said nearby. "I didn't see you, and I was beginning to think . . ."

      "I . . . I'm going to get out. I don't feel so well . . ." You trailed off, examining your arm. At first you assumed it was an old leaf or piece of mud stuck to your wrist. But the glistening black pinkie pulsated, and you felt the needling bite as it suckled your skin. Another clung to your chest and another on your shoulder.

      "L . . . L . . . LEECHES!" you cried. "LEECHES! LEEEECHESSS!"

      "AHH! GET'EMOFFGET'EMOFFGET'EMOFF!"

      "FUCK THIS LAKE! EVERYBODY OUT!"
    • The mansion: "a gray, gloomy, three-story Victorian-Era mansion. It's always looked rundown, but the past seven years have been especially cruel. A few windows are cracked or smashed. The rotten wood siding peels like dead skin. Broken shutters hang like crooked teeth. A wayward tree branch invades through the west wall."
      • Outside the mansion is a gravel driveway all but reclaimed by weeds.
      • A cemetery is next to the house: "It's not very big, and some of the tombstones are so old they're toppling."
      • Stone steps lead up to the mansion. The front doors have fogged glass panes and an old fashioned lock.
        • A small terrace, like a second porch, is halfway up the steps. It has a stone balustrade.
    • Seems to be protected from the Fog.
    • Front doors smashed in.
    • Botton floor windows blown out.
    • Back door kicked in, has a shotgun blasts through it.
    • The mansion vestibule leads to a great hall with french windows. An ornately carved staircase curves to the second story.Crossing the checkerboard floor, you pass from the vestibule into the great hall.
    • The great hall is hurricane-struck. Sofas and chairs, tools and planks, they all lie in heaps. Jagged glass rims shattered windows. Above, the upstairs hallways' rotted floor has collapsed, caving in the ceiling and littering wood and plaster across the checkerboard floor, which is scarred by blackened shotgun holes. The ruined propane generator has been thrown into a wall and rests upside down. The propane tanks and water jugs are scattered haphazardly, and one of the jugs has leaked water that mingles with the pools of blood . . .
    • Along the balcony you spot an black suit of medieval armor, flanked on either side by rows of old portrait paintings.
      • On the curving staircase to the second story, the suit of runic armor has toppled on the steps like a fallen colossus.
    • A chunk of one of the armchairs has been blown off with a shotgun (rubber slug).
    • A hole's been blasted through the kitchen table.
    • The walls of the great hall by the kitchen and back door have been shot up by shotguns.
    • Four 'pulverized' Deep One bodies lay on the great hall's floor.
    • The front and back doors are kicked in. Back door has shotgun blast through it.
    • The great hall smells like fish.
    • The floor has pools of Deep One blood.
    • The floor by the vestibule is covered in broken glass.
    • A doorless opening leads to a dining room, another to the kitchen. A pair of sliding doors lead to the den. A breached doorway near the stairway leads to the basement.
    • A short hall behind the stairway leads to a bedroom.
      • The short hallway has two other doors:
        • One leads to a walk-in closet crammed with dusty old clothes and cardboard boxes.
        • The other leads to a bathroom with an antique toilet and sink and a cracked clawfoot tub. The sink's cobwebbed knob squeaks when you turn it, but water trickles out. It stinks like sulfur.
        • Eddie clogged the toilet: '"Shitty plumbing. Don't go in there."'
      • The bedroom door has a shotgun blast through it.
    • Coffee table sawed in half by Aunt Esha's saber.
    • Armchair exploded by the Runic Halberd.
    • Bullet holes from the Elvish Carbine.
    • 'Piles of papers clutter an ancient mahogany desk, and some have spilled onto a cracked leather armchair. An overburdened bookcase takes up the back wall, its bowed shelves crammed with everything from paperbacks to manila folders to massive leather-bound tomes. The light from the window gives a sheen to the white dust that covers every surface.'
    • 'Perched on the corner of the desk is a framed black and white photograph of a young woman in a dark Victorian dress. She's beautiful, but there's something strange about her you can't quite put your finger on. Nearby is a glass display case holding a variety of artifacts: a stone tablet etched with runes catches your attention, as well as the large skull of what you guess must be some great ape. A great ape with three eyes.'
    • 'You're kneeling in the corner, struggling with an old filing cabinet, when you notice a cracked wood panel on the wall. You push at it, and it slides away to reveal a small safe. You have no idea what the combination could be'
    • The windstorm has hit the study as well. Strewn papers and books mingle with the disheveled tents and sleeping bags. The mini-fridge is overturned, and the old computer and the 50's-era radio looks smashed beyond repair.
    • Items in the glass display case (See: Artifacts)
    • Books in the Study (See: Books)
    • 'A pair of wooden sliding doors reveals a den with a covered sofa and a large, cobwebbed TV set that looks older than you and Helen combined.

      Aside from a few family photos in frames and albums, you don't find anything personal of your great-great uncle's, no diaries or important records.'
    • In the den's corner is well-stocked minibar. The bottles are dusty.
    • The sofa has been removed. Currently in the great hall.
    • 'The pantry's filled with canned goods with labels so faded you can barely read them. Rat droppings litter the tile floor by the bottom cabinets, and peeking inside you see the tattered remains of cereal boxes and other dry goods. You don't even bother opening the fridge: at best, it's empty, at worse, a bio-hazard.'
      • 'There's a spice rack in the pantry. You discover dusty jars of cloves, garlic, ginger, sage, parsley, rosemary and thyme'
    • Eddie noticed a vibration from the floor: "Maybe like a machine or something below our feet."
    • 'It's especially musty in here. Cobwebs hang like gossamer drapes from the walls and cabinets. Taking up a corner of the tile floor is a round breakfast table with plastic molded chairs that seem absurdly anachronistic for this mysterious old mansion.'
    • Kitchen table and plastic chairs have been removed, currently in the great hall.
    • 'The small room is down a short hall behind the stairs. A fourposter bed with sheer curtains takes up most of the floor space.'
    • The bedroom has an ornately carved dresser. The dresser contains:
      • an antique watch
      • socks and underwear (including frilly bras and panties for someone very petite)
      • A .38 Special revolver (Currently in Helen's inventory)
      • a couple of boxes of .38 Special (One of which is in Helen's inventory)
      • a ring with seven keys (currently in Helen's inventory)
      • twenty dollar bills with Teddy Roosevelt's face on them (See: Artifacts)
      • a crumpled up newspaper (See: Books)
    • Inside the bedroom's closet is:
      • The robot (See: Artifacts)
      • A wooden chest. Inside is:
        • an array of strange tools along with a highly organized collection of gears and springs and pistons and other metal parts.
        • a red crystal sphere--the heartstone (See: Artifacts)
        • a small tin full of a pink powdery substance (See: Artifacts)
        • A leather-bound book. (See: Books)
    • Broken window.
    • The basement door has been shotgunned down. The stairs have been destroyed by a grenade. You've bult a makeshift stairway of an armchair, workbench and bookcase.
    • The basement smells a little like wet clay.
    • 'Above, mounted along the top of the brick wall, long dead halogen lamps aim their dusty funnels across the basement at the barricaded metal doors .'
    • Aside from the holes in the ceiling, the scarred floor is covered with chips of wood and tile, and the bookcase and workbench appear rat-chewed. The grenade by the stairway has blown away a section of the floorboards, exposing dirt. The stairs themselves are a blasted ruin, slacking to the side as if held together by glue.
    • The workbench.
      • 'You check the workbench and discover a cabinet crammed with ammunition. Most boxes contain 9mm Parabellum, but the the larger ones hold shells.'
      • a ring of keys.
      • a small crate half-filled with about fifty road flares.
      • Has a couple of claw hammers, screwdrivers and other hardware odds and ends.
      • The ammo has been dumped out. Currently under the Witchboard in the alcove.
      • Workbench has been damaged by shotgun blasts, appears 'rat-chewed'.
      • The workbench is currently being used as a makeshift stairway.
    • The bookcase (See: Books)
      • Bookcase damanged by shotgun blasts, appears 'rat-chewed'.
      • Has a chalkboard covered in calculations. (See: Books)
      • A set of massive metal doors. (See: Artifacts)
      • The triple-barreled shotgun. (See: Artifacts)
    • 'Eddie points his flashlight at the corner of the basement on the far side of the metal doors. "There's a hallway over there," he says.

      The 'hallway' is an alcove no bigger than a closet. A half-rotted armchair sits against one wall with a very cluttered and dusty nightstand and lamp squat beside it. Crowded around a stack of books and magazines, you see an empty whisky bottle, a lowball glass, a pair of spectacles and a framed photograph of Aunt Esha that, by the oriental-esque cut of her dress, looks as though it was taken during her life in Jaganma.'

    • 'Eddie shines his flashlight up and down the brick wall at the rear of the alcove. "The bricks are uneven. And they're a different shade than the others.""

      You rub your fingers along the cold, gritty mortar. It's smeared in places, and the bricks are stacked in an almost slipshod manner that contrasts with the professional work of the adjacent walls.

      "This used to be a doorway," Eddie says, "until it was bricked in."'
    • A wooden table covered in runes (See: Artifacts)
    • The armchair is currently being used in the makeshift staircase.
    • The nightstand has been tossed out of the alcove. The paperbacks are scattered. The lamp broken.
    • See: Pictures
    • See: Books
    • You, Helen, Eddie and Roberta have smashed in the Alcove's brick wall, revealing a chamber. (See: Artifacts, Time Jar)
    • 'It's not so dark that you need one yet, but the windows are already graying to twilight. So you each take a flashlight from a gym bag before climbing the curving staircase. You cringe at the creaking sound as you ascend the steps, and you can't help but feel as though you've all become dangerously conspicuous, as though someone were watching you. But that's a silly fear. Aside from the four of you, there's nothing in this house except the remnant lifework of a very lonely genius.'
      • Suit of armor and halberd (See: Artifacts)
      • Oil portraits: (See: Pictures)
    • 'Past the balcony you enter a long hallway that runs the length of the mansion. At the front end the windows are broken, and water damage from no doubt years of rainstorms has stained the walls and warped and splintered the floorboards. There's two doors at that end, but as you walk closer, the wood creaks unnervingly beneath your feet and buckles slightly. You stop, step back and sweep your flashlight beam across the ruined floor.'
      • The rotted floorboards have collapsed, making a big hole to the great hall.
      • The door on the right leads to the Rec Room.
      • The door on the left leads to Elfstar's bedroom.
    • 'Down the hall, you pass a second, narrower stairway that must lead to the attic . . .'
    • 'You move on. The back half of the hallway has three doors.'
      • 'The first leads to a luxurious bathroom that with all its dust, cobwebs and white marble looks remarkably like a crypt. Maribel shines her flashlight to see if there's a skeleton in the clawfoot tub, but no such luck.'
      • The second door leads to the library, the third to Uncle Grubb's bedroom.
    • Paintings on the walls. (See: Pictures)
    • 'The next door requires a key from the keyring and opens to a large room made small by five great freestanding bookcases. Unlike the study, most of the books here seem mundane in subject matter.'
      • Has a desk for the Old Computer
        • Desk is currently broken on the floor after being levitated and dropped by Maribel.
      • Hole in the wall where Helen and Maribel used a broomstick to batter a way into the room down the hall.
      • Books, Old Computer (See: Books)
      • Broom
      • Old phone behind computer desk (disconnected, currently on the floor)
      • As of Chapter Nine: 'You stop by the library, which is now a mess from Maribel's wizardly awakening. In the corner, the computer desk sits in a broken heap, and books and papers lay strewn across the floor.'
    • 'The door across the hall also requires a key, and leads to a massive, lavish bedroom dominated by a king-sized fourposter with faded-green curtains. There's more than enough room, however, for the other furniture: a marble-top dresser, a cluttered bureau, a tea table with two delicate wooden chairs and a great oak chest at the foot of the bed. A closet door is to the side.'
    • 'Two dirty picture widows show the mansion's backyard.'
    • The bureau:
      • 'You find a lot of paperwork concerning taxes, bills and Uncle Grubb's various investments. Curiously, he funded cancer research--specifically, acute lymphoblastic leukemia--as well as homeopathy and other 'alternative medicines.' The latter's woo, but you recognize some of the chemotherapy drugs that Uncle Grubb apparently helped finance the development of. These papers date from the early fifties to the early nineties, and the total amount Uncle Grubb spent is staggering.'
    • The Closet: 'You use a key to unlock the closet. No robots here, just Uncle Grubb's musty clothes. In an old wooden crate at your feet you find carefully folded tiny dresses, skirts and blouses.'
      • 'Uncle Grubb's musty old clothes are Edwardian instead of forties-era,'
    • Golden locket: 'The golden locket is shaped like a heart, and clicking open the latch you see a tiny sepia photo of Uncle Grubb and the elf girl cuddling on a chair.'
    • Books: (See: Books)
    • Golden revolver, bag of runes, passports, Elvish papers, Esha's uniform, saber (See: Artifacts)
    • Was inaccessible due to the rotten floorboards in the hall. You had to saw through the attic floor with Aunt Esha's saber.
    • 'You hack away the last board and look into the dimness below. Curtained window light spills across a largish room. You see a piano, a secretary desk, a sofa, and a set of shelves along a wall. Helen dumps an armful of hefty tomes down the hole. The books crash in a poof of dust, but the wood floor stays firm.'
    • 'As you step off the ladder you wrinkle your nose at a faded mildewy funk.'
    • Piano
      • 'The piano is of an elegant style with pastoral scenes painted along its wood panels. It has a high bench, as if for a child, and two rows of ivory keys. Maribel walks her fingers across a few, but the strings are hopelessly out of tune. The instrument might be a harpsichord, but you wouldn't know the difference.'
    • Pool table: 'On the pool table, a few balls lie on the dusty green.'
    • 'An antique turntable/radio set takes up the center shelf, with boxes of record albums on either side. There's also a 16mm film projector as well as a wind-up phonograph with a tulip-shaped speaker-funnel and Elvish gold leaf on the wood case. The records are all classical works, mostly from the Baroque and Classical Eras, and nothing from the 20th century. Behind the phonograph is a box of black cylinders with Elvish labels. You wonder what their music sounds like.'
      • See: Artifacts
      • The radio/turntable was damaged in the Great Hall Windstorm. It may be beyond repair.
    • See: Old Photographs
    • Helen cuts away the fourth board and dumps it with the others. She and Eddie lean close and shine their flashlights through the rectangular opening.

      She fans her nose and gags. "What's down there, a dead body?"

      "I think it's just mildew," Eddie says, grimacing. He points. "That branch's been letting rain in for years."

      You crouch with them by the edge and hold your breath at the musty black odor. With your flashlight you glimpse a water-damaged bureau, a moldering mattress and a bookcase full of old paperbacks. A sturdy tree limb intrudes through a mottled wall like a tentacle petrified mid-attack.
    • 'You and Eddie retrieve the ladder and ease it down the hole until its feet touch the floorboards, which creak at the weight. Helen ties the rope around her waist, and you all hold on tight while she descends into the room and tests the floor with hard stomps.

      Finally, she says, "It's rotted out by the wall, but the rest is okay. I think this is Elfstar's room. There's a bunch of sci-fi toys . . . a flying saucer, a retro-robot and a NASA rocketship too. Come on down, Eddie. You like this shit!"'
    • '"There's spent casings by the window," Eddie says. "Was there a shootout?"'
    • '"Nothing else here," Eddie says. "Just models and science fiction books. He's got a box of old Analogs, but water's gotten to them."'
    • 'The steps creak protests as you ascend, but they seem sturdy enough. You unlock the door and enter into a darkness that only grudgingly yields to your sweeping flashlights. The cobwebs are especially thick here, and you have to gingerly bat a few down as you pass.'
    • 'Once you work through the short hallway by the door, you find the attic akin to a haunted warehouse. Bookcases and cardboard boxes make a rat maze of the space, but most of these barriers aren't high enough to block your line of sight. Along the far walls you can make out a few doors to perhaps closets. There's another stairway by the north wall which must lead up the mansion's small turret.'
    • '. . . the windows are small and especially dingy . . .'
    • There's more books here in Elvish than German, and the German ones are older.
    • While carrying the ladder, Helen, Eddie and Maribel accidentally broke a vase and tore a gouge in an oil painting.
    • You sawed a hole in the floor to the Rec Room.
    • Books (See: Books)
    • Elvish Map (See: Pictures)
    • "We went up the tower in the attic," Maribel says. "The room's tiny and all it has is a round table with an elf scrabble game."

      "All the chips have runes on them," Helen says. "There's also a few shelves with a bunch of old elf books."'
    • 'Next, you all climb a short, curving stairwell to the top of the mansion's small tower. You emerge into a dusty square room lit by a window on each wall. A round table, a chair and a bookcase and cabinet give the space a coziness that borders on claustrophobic with the four of you herded inside.'
    • The shelves have a wood case containing a small brass telescope.
      • 'It's a delicate piece, its tiny dials crafted for Elvish fingers.'
      • Has a spindlytripod.
    • Elvish religious text and other books (See: Books)
    • 'Elvish Scrabble Game,' Elvish Shrine, Elvish 'Tarot Cards,' (See: Artifacts)
    • 'Eddie rubs cobwebs off the window facing the rear of the house. "I can't see much, but the roof has a deck. There's even some old iron lawn furniture down there. The attic must have a pull down ladder or something."'
    • [From Uncle Grubb's bedroom] 'Sunlight is little more than a suggestion now, but if you shine your flashlight away from the glass you can still make out the weed-choked lawn and the wide, round fountain that takes up its center. [...] Off to the east are the garage, shed and a gnarled oak tree you and Helen once climbed when you were little. The yard ends at a picket fence long fallen apart amid a flood of knee-high grass. In the woods beyond you can just make out the white gauzy blur of the fog your sisters saw.'
    • [From the backdoor] 'Wrought-iron chairs and a table sit on the rust-stained flagstones. To the left lie the garage and tool shed.
    • [The fountain]
      • Wide and round.
      • 'Three nymph statues crowd its pedestal, and you remember how they used to spit water into the air. Now their upturned, puckered faces are bone dry. Only dead leaves fill the Jacuzzi-sized dish below.

        A curving stone bench circles the fountain, and nearby slumps a now-rusted sundial.'

      • Ahead, in the center of the yard, the three bronze nymphs pose on tiptoes in their petrified dance, their arms splayed like wings, their upturned, puckered lips squirting nonexistent water into the granite basin at their feet.'
      • The statues fascinated you when you were little, and you and Helen used to splash in the round pool as their never-ending spit trickled on your heads. They seemed like wondrous relics from a fairy tale age. Now they stand forsaken.

        Under the flare's bright flicker you can't help but think the nude figures squirm on their pedestal. Their sad metal eyes follow you across the lawn.'
    • In the backyard.
    • '"There's a garage out back, away from the house. It has an Oldsmobile station wagon from the seventies. It's an ugly piece of shit, like what the Griswolds drove in that Vacation movie, but parked next to it is a real beauty: a 1966 Chevy C10 Pickup. Cherry red, or at least it used to be.

      Both cars have been left to rot, though, so the tires are shot and the gas and fluids have turned to sludge. But I bet Roberta could restore it."' -
      Helen
    • A stink of must and grime creeps in the air. Cobwebs drape from every corner. Unlike the house, the garage isn't Fog-proof; the light from the two windows is a Vaseline haze.

      Old cardboard boxes are crammed along the walls. Wooden crates and paint cans clutter the shelves. An ancient lawnmower squats in the corner like a great motorized toad.

      Most of the space is taken up by two dust-shrouded vehicles: a boxy seventies-era station wagon you vaguely recollect, and a sixties Chevy pickup you're sure you've never seen before. The tires are flat and tattered.'
    • The Chevy Truck has worn leather seats.
    • Mysterious Amulet in the Chevy Truck (See: Artifacts, Garage)
    • '"And next to the garage is a tool shed," says Maribel. "It has an ax and a machete and even a chainsaw!"'
    • 'It's a slumping addendum to the garage. Anaconda-thick roots have undermined its concrete foundation, leaving its plank walls with a ramshackle slant.'
    • 'It's much like the garage only smaller and darker, and suffocatingly claustrophobic with the four of you herded between the dusty workbench and shelves. The sole window tints the Fog a sickly yellow. Helen flinches from a dangling dead light bulb that taps her hat.'
    • Stone birdbath outside the shed.
    • Oak tree.
      • Gnarled, ugly
      • '. . . the tree's as familiar as a bygone adversary. Fireflies orbit its top branches like lazy planets.'
    • 'Beyond the ruined picket fence, the Fog curdles to opaque white, and you feel as though you peer upon the world's blurred boundary. The milky void beckons you . . .'

    Pictures and Artifacts
    In the study:
    • Photo of the 'Elf Girl,' Aunt Esha
      • 'Perched on the corner of the desk is a framed black and white photograph of a young woman in a dark Victorian dress. She's beautiful, but there's something strange about her you can't quite put your finger on.'
    • Christmas, 2001
      • A stuffed manila envelope with the words, 'Christmas, 2001' catches your eye, and inside you find a stack of photographs.

        Contrasting all the surreal things you've come across, this is mundanely melancholy.

        Your memories of this specific get together are so faint as to be almost imaginary, but seeing your family captured in these bygone moments tugs at you.

        In one, Aunt Rudy holds a beer in each hand as she chats with Great-Uncle Freddy, who's smoking a cigarette through his Santa beard. Another shows your grandparents playing cards with your mom and dad; all four have felt antlers clipped to their heads. Your mom's laughing at something, a glass of eggnog held to her lips. Your throat tightens a little, but you keep sifting through the pictures.

        You see Uncle Stewart and Aunt Cindy hugging on the back porch. You see your cousins Jeff and Shane sparring with collapsible lightsabers while behind them Uncle Grubb slaves over a stove. And you come across a photo of a pair of near-identical tow-headed five year olds playing in the mansion's front yard.

        At that age, you and Helen were distinguishable only by Helen's longer hair. You both have mud on your clothes and together are conducting a battle between X-Men and Pokemon action figures. A toddler Eddie with blond hair dirtier blond than you and your sister's peddles a big-wheel tricycle in the background. You smile as you half-remember, and you go on.

        It's the last picture that gives you pause. It's a family portrait of four generations. At the top, Great-great uncle Grubb stands beside his brother, your Great-grandfather Fulbert, who in turn stands beside his wife, your Great-grandmother Hilda. Below them are Great-uncle Freddy and your grandparents, and below them are Uncle Stewart, Aunts Cindy and Rudy, Cousin Richie and your mom and dad. Being the youngest, you, Helen and Eddie, along with your cousins Jeff, Shane, and Desiree, make up the bottom row.

        You hunch in the leather chair, the sudden grief stifling you like a gloomy cloud. You run a finger over the photo, touching each face. Uncle Grubb has his usual distracted, vaguely unhappy gaze, which is juxtaposed by Great-grandpa Fulbert's easy smile. It's little wonder, really. Great-grandpa Fulbert had the loving family, while Uncle Grubb spent his life alone, apparently constructing a fantasy world around himself.

        But other than that, the two brothers look much alike with similar heads of wavy white hair and narrow, Nordic features which gave them a regal bearing in their old age. Great-grandma Hilda looks like them too, now that you think about it. You lift the picture and squint: No, she really looks like them.

        A lot. She has the same long face with the same deep set eyes, aquiline nose and prominent cheekbones. They all three look more alike than you and Helen do. Was Hilda Grubb and Fulbert's cousin? Or maybe even their . . . . No, that's crazy. It can't be. But the resemblance is uncanny.
    In the bedroom behind the stairway:
    • Aunt Esha
      • '"Looks like he also had a girlfriend," Helen says. "Tiny little thing. And really cute." She passes around a black and white photo of a fortyish Grubb wearing a tweed jacket and boulder hat. Standing beside him is a very pretty woman who comes scarcely up to his elbow. She has to be under five feet tall. You recognize her as the same woman from the picture in the study.'
      • '"Here's another one of her. Check out the ears."'
    In the Basement Alcove:
    • ' . . . a framed photograph of Aunt Esha that, by the oriental-esque cut of her dress, looks as though it was taken during her life in Jaganma.'
    In the Stairway:
    • Oil portraits:
      • 'Oil portraits hang on either side of the armor. You brush away the cobwebs and see they're both of dour old men in 18th century waistcoats. You recognize neither of them, though they share the same Nordic features of Uncle Grubb and your great-grandparents.'
    The second story hallway:
    • Paintings:
      • 'There are a few more paintings on the walls here, mostly portraits of similarly-faced men and woman, though you notice a pastoral landscape of Greco-Roman-style ruins overgrown with trees and vines. In the background, against the faded baby blue of the sky, a fine thin line of alternating silver and dark rises straight up from the horizon. The ringworld. The Arc of Heaven.'
    Uncle Grubb's Bedroom:
    • Portrait of Uncle Grubb, Esha and baby Sloka
      • '"There's that elf girl again," Eddie says.

        You turn and see he's shining his light on a framed black and white photograph hanging on the wall. A young Uncle Grubb sits with small elf woman on a Victorian settee. Both are smiling, and in the woman's arms, bundled in a blanket, is a very tiny newborn.

        "Aw!" Maribel squeals. "It's a baby elf! Look, it even has pointy ears! Do you think Uncle Grubb's the daddy? I bet he is. He looks so happy. I guess that means the baby's our half-elf cousin."'
    • Old 1950's photographs
      • 'Eddie's standing by the dresser with a stack of photographs in his hand. Silently, with a blankly disturbed expression, he passes her the photos.

        Shining them with your flashlight, you look over Helen's shoulder as she shuffles through the pictures. They're black and white, and from the quality and the clothes, you date these around the 1950's. Many were taken in this very house. One picture is in the den. Uncle Grubb is on the couch, a cigarette in his mouth and an arm around the elf girl. She's wearing a sundress, and though she's smiling, you think she looks a little pale and gaunt.

        A pointy-eared toddler boy sits in her lap. Both Great-grandpa Fulbert and Great-grandma Hilda recline in nearby chairs, iced drinks in their hands. An early, round-screened Zenith television set squats in the background.'
      • 'The rest of the pictures are general snapshots of domestic life. The elf girl kneels with gloves and a straw hat in a backyard garden. Uncle Grubb and Great-grandpa Fulbert fish by the lake. The elf toddler rides a tricycle. Some photos are on a beach with an old Buick convertible in the background. The elf girl wears a babushka to cover her ears, the toddler a baseball cap. ("Aw!" says Maribel). In some of these, your great-grandparents have a baby with them, which must be your grandfather.'
    • Mysterious photographs
      • 'But in the bottom drawer of the dresser, Eddie finds more black and white pictures. Aside from having a peculiar texture and gloss one usually doesn't find with photographs, these photos are noteworthy in that nearly everyone in them is an elf. The setting appears to be a sort of 19th century. The architecture and clothes are vaguely Victorian, but salted with an Art Deco look and with a heavy slant toward the Gothic style.

        There are plenty of horse-drawn carriages, but one picture shows a primitive-yet-sleek, three-wheeled automobile.'

        'A picture of a cityscape looks impressively sprawling, albeit very smoggy. Behind a massive tower stands a statue that likely rivals Lady Liberty.'

        "Another is of an 'air warship,' bigger and bulkier than the ones you saw in On God's Ring."

        Most of the elves wear oddly-cut suits, dresses or priestly-looking robes. Some smoke cigarettes, others from comically curved pipes. Among the elves are the occasional humans, standing out by both their height and thicker bodies. The two races mingle as evident equals. It takes you a moment to recognize them because they're so much younger, but Grubb, Fulbert and Hilda are in a few of the pictures, as well as a teenage Esha. In one, they're toasting at a dinner party; in another, they're crowded in the seat a carriage, mugging for the camera in a way that wouldn't look out of place on a Facebook page. In one of the larger pictures, slightly water damaged, they're on a high balcony, a foggy city spread behind them. Grubb has an hand around Esha's tiny waist, his other holding the leash of a little pug dog.

        In the last photo, Esha is a little older, perhaps twenty or so, and wears a dark double-breasted coat that from the metal stars and crosses pinned below the epaulets you guess is a military uniform. Her long hair is in a bun, and over it she sports a visor hat with aviator goggles on the bill.

        Behind her, in the sky above, looms a massive airship bristling with armored turrets. A word in the 'Elvish' language is painted along its side--the name of the ship, you suppose. The wide, square banner of a two headed dragon flaps from the superstructure.

        Esha's smile is slight and proud with an aristocratic glint in her eye. Strapped to one hip is a slightly curved saber, on the other a revolver that looks suspiciously like the one from the wooden chest.
    Rec Room
    • 'Old photographs hang on the walls. In one, a bare-chested Uncle Grubb mows the lawn while a toddler Elfstar follows in a cowboy hat. In another, a smiling Aunt Esha is literally dwarfed by the robot looming next to her in the kitchen. The blank-faced machine is dressed as a butler and gripping a tray of drinks in its spindly arms.

      There's only three color photos, all of Elfstar. In the latest, he's a teenager with blond Ringo hair and stands with his father in front of an old Model T car. Your cousin (who's short for a Springwell) scowls while Uncle Grubb sports a fake grin that can't hide the distracted vacancy in his eyes.

      It was a gloom he bore for as long as you can remember.'
    • [In the closet]
      • A shoebox contains several 3-inch 16mm film reels.
      • 'Digging deeper, you uncover a framed photograph of a teenage Aunt Esha posing proudly in her fencing gear. Others show sparring matches between petite female figures, though the face-plates make it impossible to tell which one is her. A few show her in skintight leotards, leaping and back-flipping over gymnasium bars.'
    Attic
    • Elvish Map
      • 'Helen shines her flashlight at a wall. "I think this is an elf world map."

        It's a painted wooden rectangle about five feet wide, most of the colors either green or blue with some patches of white. The landmasses seem hopelessly cluttered.

        "It looks like someone vomited a bunch of archipelagos," Helen says.

        "If this is a ringworld, each of those islands could be the size of Africa or Asia," says Eddie. "This map could be a hundred thousand miles wide. Maybe more."

        You lean closer and see tiny Elvish script labeling each of the continents, with innumerable dots representing cities. Black hair-thin lines mark national boundaries. There must be thousands of countries or provinces. Elvish geography must be a real headache.'
    In the study:
    • A stone tablet etched with runes.
    • A three-eyed ape skull.
      • Has long, jagged fangs
      • Feels like carved rock
    In the bedroom behind the stairway:
    • Twenty dollar bills with Teddy Roosevelt's face (Some are in your and Helen's inventory)
      • 'It feels real, it looks real. The green lines are remarkably fine, especially for a 'gag dollar'. The date on the front is, '1930.' On the back you see a warship with three smokestacks and a US flag flapping from its superstructure. Being a history buff, you recognize it as the battleship USS Connecticut, the flagship of the Great White Fleet, a battle fleet commissioned by President Roosevelt to circumnavigate the world. 'The Great Expedition: 1910-1913' reads along the top the bill, and above that there's a zodiac sun inside a wide circle, around which is inscribed the Latin phrase: TERRA NOVA, AETAS NOVA. 'A new world, a new age.''
    • Other money
      • 'Aside from the twenties with Roosevelt's portrait, the tens celebrate the American Bison, and the fifties show a mustached man named, 'Clark Savage.' The rugged, lantern-jawed face is familiar but not the one you know. He must be the father of the famous 1930's millionaire. The single one hundred you find features Abe Lincoln.'
    • The Robot
      • 'You nearly jump when you see the blank iron face staring down at you. Maribel screams and hides behind you.'
      • 'You, Helen and Eddie all have tall lanky builds, and you yourself are six foot two. This . . . statue is both skinnier and at least a hand taller. You poke it with a finger and feel hard metal beneath its frayed button up hobo shirt. You push; the statue doesn't even wobble. It must weigh several hundred pounds.'
      • 'As you stand up, the iron-faced statue looms from the closet and seems to stare at you accusingly with its blank, black eyes.'
    • A red crystal sphere--the 'heartstone' (Currently in your inventory)
      • It's about the size of a baseball
      • 'The sphere feels heavier than you expected and glows subtly at the touch of your skin. Some sort of inner light that reacts to bio-electric contact?'
      • When near the runic armor: 'You notice the red crystal sphere in your pocket feels slightly warm. You touch it with a finger and decide it might be your imagination.'
      • . . . old relics from the Vendi-Ka Wastes. Normally, these red crystal spheres are used to determine whether one was born with a Erbfaktor and its class and level. However, the stones can also be used to augment the gedankenformen ('thoughtforms') behind 'Platonics' and 'runic semantics'--vital for transversing the Fog.
      • The stone has shown that Eddie and Maribel have powers.
        • For Eddie: The stone darkens and shines like the brilliant halo of an eclipsed sun.
          • Eddie can see through the stone
        • For Maribel: A pale blue aura pulses from the heartstone cupped in Maribel's hands.
          • Shines like 'a cyan star' when she holds it over her head.
    • a small tin full of a pink powdery substance
    In the Basement
    • Runic Table/Witchboard
      • '. . . you spot ahead a shimmer like smoldering coal. Your shine your flashlight across the darkness to find a wide round table about twenty feet away. It's tiered with three plateaus, each smaller than the one below, giving the impression of a squat ziggurat. From the table's center rises a silver pole, and on its tip rests a heartstone glowing dimly like a feeble red sun.'
      • 'Helen steps towards the table. "This looks like the Tardis control console . . . if it was built by a schizophrenic carpenter."

        You snicker because it's sort of true. Under the dust, the table's wood plateaus are carved with arcane symbols, geometric shapes and spooky little doll faces that under your flashlight seem worryingly lifelike. Certain areas of the table are smeared with a dark, dried substance that you're afraid to identify. Others are marked off with hexagon grids and cluttered with small runic counters similar to the ones on the board in the attic tower. The heartstone is attached to the pole by a three-clawed mechanical vice.'
      • . . . the layer cake tabletop is nearly two feet thick.
      • Dried sap or tar coats its sides. The table's heavier than you would have guessed. Shaped roughly like a tree, its broad, bulky head rests on a trunk-thick pedestal, with feet jutting from the base as roots. Engraved runes jiggle under flashlights and heartstones. Carved doll-faces gaze up with pinched concern.
      • Uncle Grubb used the Witchboard to 'align' with Earth-1901.
      • The Witchboard has been damaged by shotguns.
        • . . . the Witchboard's surface is pocked with shot, scraping away a number of its etched runes. Its heartstone glows blue now instead of red.
    • Metal Doors
      • 'On the room's far side, away from you, loom a set of gray, formidable-looking metal doors. They're reinforced by four heavy crossbars, and a barred gate, like one you'd see outside a bank vault, is closed across them and secured with a massive padlock. For about a yard around the doors, the wood floor has been stripped away, exposing soil etched with runes.

        The doors ooze a subtle foreboding that sets you on edge. The dirt runes in jiggle in your sight, making your head ache.'

      • 'Above, mounted along the top of the brick wall, long dead halogen lamps aim their dusty funnels across the basement at the barricaded metal doors.'
      • Helen shines her flashlight at the barricaded metal doors. The runes in the dirt jiggle unnervingly.

        "Are we ever opening those?" she asks.

        "Still getting bad vibes," Eddie says, "though not as strong. But whatever's on the other side, Uncle Grubb wanted it well lit." He taps the box of road flares with his shoe and wags his flashlight at the long-dead halogens mounted high on the opposite wall.
    • Eirohm 7.57 Ln Triple Barrel Shotgun
      • 'The triple-barrels are bound in a triangular pattern, with the sights on the topmost one. The gun's a little over three feet long and has a solid weight. The wood stock is engraved with an arrowhead logo with an archer crouched inside. Shining your flashlight along one of the barrels, you read the inscription: 'Eirohm Unternehmen von Schusswaffen'

        You open the breach and finger the three empty chambers. The bore is bigger than a 12ga.'
      • 'You inspect the shotgun and learn it's a single-action semiautomatic: you have to click back the hammer, but after that each trigger pull fires a barrel. Maribel says it'd be cooler if you could shoot all three at once, but doing so would probably rip your shoulder off.'
    • Ammunition for the Triple Barrel Shotgun
      • 'You check the workbench and discover a cabinet crammed with ammunition. Most boxes contain 9mm Parabellum, but the the larger ones hold shells.

        You pull a few of these out and lay them on the bench counter top. According to their Elvish/German labels, the caliber is '7.57 Ln,' whatever that means. The shells are brass cased and an intimidating four inches in length. Some are shot, others slugs. Three boxes have the 'Happy Dwarf' logo, suggesting they're magical like the golden revolver's 'ice' and 'stiletto' bullets. You'll take a closer look later.'
      • Helen: '" . . . these long-ass Elf shells look like something you'd load in an elephant gun. Like, 'nine-hundred nitro magnum express.' It looks badass, but I don't want to break my shoulder."'
      • In the cabinets you find seven dusty boxes of '7.57 Ln.' Each displays the warning, 'Hohe Rückstoß! Nicht für Elfen gedacht!' ('High Recoil! Not intended for Elves!') and is stamped with, 'Eigentum von der Kaiserliche Marine,' (Property of the Imperial Navy). Four hold 'normal' shells, and in those you count ninety-three shot and eighty-seven slugs. The three smaller boxes sport the 'Happy Dwarf' logo.

        On the first of these, the label shows a faded cartoon of a soldier in fatigues blasting a shotgun into a man in plate-mail. The spreading pellets penetrate through the enemy's cuirass and exit gorily out his back. The text describes the shells as Schwarze Stilettos, or 'Black Stilettos,' and boasts of the Eirohm Firearm Company's patented armor-penetrating micro-runes. The box is over half full, containing thirteen shiny black shot shells.

        The next box has the soldier firing at a dark-skinned man wearing a vaguely 18th century uniform. The man looks alarmed as his entrails splatter from his belly. These are 'Donnerfauste' ('Thunderfists') and the description brags of the 'rune-activated chemical reaction' engineered to explode inside the target. Nine brass-colored slugs remain in the box.

        The last box is the smallest, and plastered on its side is the image of an orange, demonic-looking skull surrounded with wavy yellow lines. The cartoon shows the soldier grinning with his shotgun, smoke rising from the barrel. In the background burns the melted wreckage of what looks like a World War One tank on steroids. These shells are called, 'Atomar Zorn'--'Atomic Wrath.' 'Dwarven science has harnessed the power of the atom!' the text proudly declares. Below, you read a list of warnings:

        Handle with care.
        Avoid prolonged exposure.
        Keep away from reproductive organs.
        Pregnant women should avoid contact.
        Do not use at ranges less than fifteen elles.
        Do not breach the shells' protective lead casings.


        You lift the lid. The inside is lined with some sort of foil. Your flashlight beam glints off five gray cylindrical shells. You open the box wider, but Helen grabs your hand.

        "No touchy!" she snaps. "I can't read this Nazi shit, but that scary-ass skull and the word 'atom' tells me we shouldn't fuck with it."

        "And they're old," Eddie says. "They might be 'leaking.'"

        You use the shotgun to push the box to the far side of the countertop. "Good call. Let's stay away from these. I mean it, Maribel."

        "I will! I don't want my hair to fall out!"

        "It looks like they'd be cool to shoot, though," Eddie says. "And I'm getting a serious 'Vault Boy' vibe from that little army guy."
    • Leather scabbard
      • 'You also discover a long leather 'scabbard' that allows you to carry the shotgun on your back. As you fasten its straps across your chest, Maribel points out that this makes you look very much like Ash from Army of Darkness.'
    In the Alcove:
    • Time Jar
      • You have smashed in the alcove's brick wall, revealing the Time Jar.
      • Everyone huddles by the waist-high hole. Flashlight beams fog as the dust clouds gradually settle.

        [​IMG]

        The machine is twice your height and shaped like a Victorian lantern. A dark, glassy tank rests on a round brass base, and from the base two rods bend upwards, supporting a pair of massive light bulbs over the tank's lid. The bulbs' coiled filaments simmer with purple luminescence.

        "Time machine?" Roberta asks.

        Eddie crawls through the hole. You follow tentatively. Helen and Roberta stay behind.

        The dirty floorboards creak against your palms and knees. The walls are brick, the ceiling concrete. The electric bulbs casts the chamber with a stark indigo that tires the eyes.

        Eddie stands before the machine, silhouetted by its eerie glow. "We've seen this before. It was in that hieroglyphic book."

        You remember the drawing. "Do you sense anything . . . magical?"

        "Maybe." His flashlight beam penetrates the glass, and the blackness warms to a dull maroon which warps and balloons with lava lamp consistency. As slow as molasses, the color oozes through the tank's inky depths. It shimmers across a texture, a form.

        "Something's inside," Helen says from the hole.

        Eddie sweeps the beam, 'painting' the tank. The sluggish light saturates the interior by dingy gradients: first to burgundy, and then to amber, and then . . .

        Goosebumps prickle down your spine. Helen and Eddie gasp.

        "Sweet Jesus," Roberta whispers.

        Aunt Esha is not frozen. There is no frost. Rather, she is paused. In the tank she kneels motionless, her small fists raised to beat against the glass. Her floral cocktail dress is ruffled with movement, yet remains as still as painted marble. Her ginger hair splays out like petrified vines, framing a slender, sharp-chinned face snarled with anguish. Her mouth yawns in an aborted shout. Unfinished tears streak from her pond-green eyes, which bore rage at an empty space to Eddie's right.

        Trembling, Eddie's flashlight beam sinks to a granite slab at the foot of the machine. Chiseled text covers the stone: English, Elvish and a quasi-Latin language you're fairly sure is Esperanto.

        Numbly, you hunch low and read aloud.

        BEFORE YOU IS A TIME JAR. INSIDE IS ESHA KU V'JANAHAVABOR, MY WIFE.

        SHE IS AFFLICTED WITH LEUKEMIA, A BLOOD CANCER. SHE HAS ONLY MONTHS TO LIVE. BY THE CUSTOM OF HER PEOPLE, SHE WOULD HAVE TAKEN HER OWN LIFE, BUT I COULD NOT ALLOW THAT.

        SHE IS ALIVE, BUT FOR HER THE PASSAGE OF TIME IS HALTED. IT IS MY HOPE THAT A CURE WILL BE DEVELOPED IN MY LIFETIME. I WILL ENDEAVOR TO ENCOURAGE ITS DISCOVERY.

        HOWEVER, IF YOU ARE READING THIS, THEN I HAVE FAILED. I DON'T KNOW HOW MANY CENTURIES HAVE PASSED. I DON'T KNOW THE STATE OF YOUR WORLD. BUT I BEG YOU NOT TO RELEASE HER UNTIL SHE CAN BE CURED. THE TIME JAR IS ANCIENT, ITS ENERGIES SPENT. IF IT'S OPENED, IT CAN'T BE USED AGAIN.

        UNDER THIS STONE IS A VACUUM SEALED BOX CONTAINING HER MEDICAL RECORDS. IF HER KIND IS UNFAMILIAR TO YOU, I ASSURE YOU SHE IS HUMAN IN ALL RELEVANT RESPECTS. TO OPEN THE JAR, TWIST THE THREE KEYS ALONG THE BASE.

        MAY SHE FIND HAPPINESS IN YOUR WORLD. PERHAPS, GOD WILLING, SHE WILL ONE DAY FORGIVE ME.

        I LOVE YOU, ESHA. I WILL WAIT FOR YOU.

        -GERBERN ERNESTINE-WETTIN
        -A.D. 1959


        Your insides are hollow. Dank cold clings to your skin. In the absence of Eddie's flashlight, the Time Jar has reclaimed its tarry murk, but your aunt is still in there, mired perpetually in that tragic moment.
    On the stairway:
    • Suit of armor
      • 'On the balcony, you shine your light over the suit of armor you saw earlier, revealing that it's not black but rather a very deep shade of bronze. By the complex nature of the plate mail, you guess it's from the 16th century. Elaborate scrollwork of dragons and serpents and other mythological creatures cover its every inch, and as you gaze into the patterns your eyes seem to skirt along the surface, unable to focus. Some sort of optical illusion, perhaps? The helmet, a visored burgonet, stares at you menacingly.'
      • 'You lean closer and squint. There's etchings into the metal so faint they seem nearly subliminal. You wiggle your flashlight to verify their presence. The symbols shimmer as though made of oil.

        "There's runes on this," you say. "The same kind in that book and on that stone tablet."'
      • You and Eddie are too tall to wear the armor, though Helen might fit in it if she hunches a little. Maribel thinks it would fit her if she wore platform shoes.
    • Halberd
      • 'You shine the flashlight above the armor and spot a long-shafted halberd mounted on the wall. You'd need a ladder to reach it. Idly, you wonder whether you'd find runes on its dark blade.'
      • The shaft's about seven feet long.
      • The dark, spiked ax-blade projects an aura of Gothic deadliness.
      • You might be able to get it down if you stood tip-toed on a table.
      • 'As you all ascend the staircase, you eye the halberd high on the wall. If you were to venture into the Fog, its seven-foot shaft and heavy, brutal ax blade might keep back unfriendlies. On the other hand, it looks unwieldy.

        Your lack of skill aside, you think you're strong enough to swing it if you have to, but you'd rather keep a hand free for your gun. Eddie's too much of a beanpole. Helen's the most athletic, but despite her kickboxing hobby, she isn't exactly known for her upper-body strength. And heaven help you if you give the halberd to Maribel.

        However, you suspect the weapon is runic and make a note to investigate it later.'
      • The shafted weapon has a solid weight, but is lighter than it looks.
      • 'The ax is concave and has three cross-shaped holes stamped through the charcoal-black blade. A pick curves on the opposite side, and the broad spearhead top protrudes a good foot. Squinting close, you detect all but invisible runes jiggling across the metal like oil over water. The shaft is ribbed with dark, hair-thin wires.'
      • You take it down the stairs and choose one of the sheet-covered armchairs.

        "Everyone stay back." You arc the halberd above you and, feeling a little reckless, swing down.

        Wind blasts your face. Thunder claps your eardrums. You wipe your eyes and sneeze.

        Upset dust drizzles around you. The armchair is gone. Scraps of fabric and wood lie scattered across the checkerboard floor. Careful to point the halberd away, you turn to your siblings.

        "Anyone hurt?" you ask over the mild ringing.

        "That was so cool!" Maribel cries. "Do it again! Do it again!"

        Helen rubs a pinkie in her ear. "What does it have, 'grenade runes'?"

        The halberd doesn't seem damaged. There wasn't even a 'recoil' when you struck the chair. "They might be 'concussive' runes. Maybe some form of air magic like Maribel's?"
    Uncle Grubb's Bedroom
    • Golden Revolver (Currently in your inventory)
      • 'From the chest your twin pulls out a gold-plated handgun. Superficially, it resembles an old LeMat revolver, but it's too small, more the size of a pocket pistol.'
      • 'She opens the gun and checks the inside of the cylinder, rotating it with her thumb as she shines it with her flashlight. "Huh, an eight-shooter. We found it in its own wooden case here. Real nice. Got a little plaque inside too, along with a few boxes of tiny bullets. Don't know the caliber. The words are all in like Hebrew or Arabic or something."

        She holds up an ammo box. The cardboard is old but intact. You don't know Hebrew or Arabic, but you wouldn't bet that strange script is either of those languages. Whatever it is, it's notably distinct from the hieroglyphics found in the 'instruction book' in the closet with the 'robot.''
      • 'In the chest you find a black leather holster and a Sam Browne-style belt with pouches. Of course the belt's far too small to fit around your waist, but it only takes a few moments to unbuckle your own belt and slide the holster into place.'
      • Not that it really matters, but the holster's for a left-handed draw; curiously, even on the revolver the latch to open the cylinder is on the right side--for a left thumb.
      • 'You open the revolver and spin the cylinder with your thumb. Twinkling in the light, eight empty chambers go around and around like the spaces on a tiny golden roulette wheel. You snap the gun shut, pull back the hammer and test the action. The trigger pull is very light, maybe no more than a pound.'
    • Ammo for the Golden Revolver
      • 'Opening up a box of ammunition, you find inside one hundred rounds. The bullets have blunt, hollow-point tips and are no wider than six or seven millimeters. The brass cartridges are long and slender, and superficially they remind you of slightly scaled up .22 magnums. You work the box into your back pocket.'
      • Four ammo boxes:
        After a minute of rooting around, you find four small ammo boxes for the golden revolver. Two hold one hundred rounds each and contain standard blunt-nosed tips. The other two are smaller and half empty, and at a glance you can tell they are special.

        The label on the first of these shows a cartoon elf in a military uniform firing what looks like a stiletto dagger from a revolver. In the upper corner, circled by Elvish text, floats the grinning gray-skinned head of a three-eyed dwarf. With his wide chin and the long pipe jutting from his lopsided mouth, he reminds you of Popeye. Inside the box are fourteen conical bullets with needled points. They seem to be made of the same 'obsidian metal' as the saber.

        The second box shows a drawing of a blue-robed elf sitting on a throne of ice. A crown of icicles rests on his white head. Snowflakes fall around him.

        Sporting a mischievous smile, the 'Winter King' regally holds up a revolver and a carbine as though they were scepters. Once again, the happy dwarf logo sits in the corner, though here he wears a fur hat and scarf. Inside you count ten silver bullets, their surface rough with nearly microscopic etchings.

        Experimentally, you probe one with your finger and find it icy to the touch.
    • Bag of runes
      • ' . . .you also find a small cloth bag and a golden locket. The bag is filled with flat pebbles carved with runes and reminds you of a Bananagrams sack.'
    • Passports
      • 'In the chest, Helen and Maribel discover US passports and 'Certificate of Residence' papers for 'Gerbern', Fulbert and Hilda Springenwelt as well as the elf woman who's name apparently is, 'Esha ku V'Janahavabor.' The date on the papers is 1904, and Esha's race is given as, 'Elf,' her height is, 'four feet, six inches,' her age, 'Twenty-seven Earth Years' and her occupation is 'domestic servant.' Her country of origin is listed as 'Zurain.' The Springenwelts hail from Germany. Digging a little deeper, Helen finds a birth certificate for a 'Sloka ka V'Janahavabor,' born January 15, 1905.'
    • Elvish papers
      • 'Also among the photos are 'elven papers.' They're of little interest, since you can't hope to translate them, but one has Esha's picture and is clearly some form of identification card. A two-headed dragon symbol is stamped in the corner.'
    • Esha's uniform
      • 'Esha's uniform, wrapped in cellophane, rests among them. It's difficult to tell, but under your flashlight the coat looks a deep cobalt blue. The stars and rings under the epaulets shine like silver.'
    • Esha's saber
      • 'A short curved saber leans sheathed against the closet's wall.'
      • Description:
        Your eye settles on Aunt Esha's stubby little saber leaning against the wall, and you lift it up and draw it from the leather scabbard.

        Not two feet long, the saber is more like a cutlass. At first you mistake the short, smooth glimmering dark blade for obsidian, but the length flexes slightly under the pressure of your fingertips--something glass would never do. Your flashlight reveals in the metal faint shimmering runes so tiny they're little more than geometric specks. The golden, lion's head grip is too 'elf-size' for your admittedly large hands, but as you awkwardly make a few practice swings the weapon takes on an unnatural balance as through a second, unseen hand were guiding your movements. You don't even bother with a rational explanation. It's a magic sword. Carefully, you sheath it and put it in the box. Perhaps you'll show it to Eddie later.

        It's not until you've taken a few steps away that you notice the blood welling on your fingertip. The cut is nearly invisible and fortunately not too deep. But you barely even touched the edge. The blade must be razor sharp. Sucking your finger, you open the chest at the foot of the bed.
      • After you and Helen recuperate, you pull the white dust cover off the great hall's coffee table and slowly draw Aunt Esha's saber. You can only wrap three fingers around the tiny golden hilt, but the sword's superior balance somewhat ameliorates this awkwardness. You raise the obsidian blade and give the furniture a whack.

        Your wrist jars at the sinking impact. The result amazes you. With one slash, you've chopped halfway through a three inch-thick, two foot-wide tabletop.

        Firmly gripping the saber, you saw through the wood with no more difficulty than if it were stale bread. The table collapses down the middle.

        You hold the blade up to your eye: the edge is unblunted.
      • 'The floorboards put up a sterner fight than the coffee table, though it's still no harder than cutting balsa wood.'
      • 'Helen kneels and draws the short saber. The Elvish grip is too small for even her thin hand, but at least she can fit all her fingers through the guard.'
      • 'You've carved a yard long scar into the brick wall, but it's only a centimeter or so deep. While the saber remains unblunted, you'd make better progress with the sledgehammer. You sheath the sword. You'll come back later.'
    Rec Room
    • Elvish Phonograph
      • '. . . a wind-up phonograph with a tulip-shaped speaker-funnel and Elvish gold leaf on the wood case. The records are all classical works, mostly from the Baroque and Classical Eras, and nothing from the 20th century. Behind the phonograph is a box of black cylinders with Elvish labels. You wonder what their music sounds like.'
    • Ernestine-Wettin Ancestral Sword
      • In the back of the closet rests a long mahogany case. You pop the clasps and raise the lid to reveal a curved sword in a silver scabbard. A plaque reads in German:

        'For his services to the Kingdom of Westphalia against the Trollish Intrusion at Bochum in the Year of Our Lord, 1759,Frederick Johann Ernestine-Wettin, Count of Arnsberg, is presented this saber crafted by the Dwarven Peoples of Aimar City.'


        You lift the weapon from the velvet indentations and wrap your fingers around the leather and gold grip. Carefully, you draw the blade, which seems to almost radiate in the dim room.

        "It's a scimitar!" Maribel says.

        "No, it's a cavalry saber." Though you can see the Middle Eastern influence in its sweeping design. You stand up and roll your wrist; the sword moves like an extension of your arm.

        "It's probably magical," Maribel says. "Test it and see what it does."

        "Everyone keep back." You swipe at the air.

        The sharp edge flares orange-red, and you smell the foul burning of dust particles. Somehow, you feel no heat through the grip, though goosebumps ripple through you.

        "I knew it!" Maribel says.

        Helen nods approvingly. "Nice. A lightsaber."

        "More like a 'branding-iron' saber,'" Eddie says.

        You grin at its sizzling. "I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of this. And it fits right in my hand too."

        You examine the hot metal and see granular runes dazzling like star clusters. Along the blade's fuller reads the blazing word, 'Trollfluch.'

        T
        he other side is inscribed with a phrase in Greek.

        You hold the saber still and the heat dissipates. The writing vanishes. You tap the blade; it's cool. You surmise the runes are 'swing activated.'

        You slide it back in its sheath.
      • 'Its presence at your hip heartens you, and you imagine your ancestors wielding the red hot blade through the generations. How many battles has it seen? How many trolls has it slain?'
    • [In closet]
      • 'Inside a sturdy wood chest you find practice foils, padded armor, wire-mesh masks and a number of ribbons and medals. One is a gold pendant of a two headed dragon with purple silk pinned along the wings.'
    Elfstar's Bedroom
    • Elvish Carbine
      • '"We found another gun!" Eddie calls out. "It's a Winchester sniper rifle!" Metal clicks drift up through the hole.

        "No, it's not Winchester," Helen says. "It's Elf. But it's lever-action. Nice balance, too. It has a weird feed system, like a 'revolver magazine.' There's a button on the side of the scope . . . Check this out, Eddie! Night vision!"

        "Huh, it's as bright as day. It can't see through the Fog, though."'
      • 'It's a spindly carbine a little over three feet long, with a short fore-end and a butt curved like a crescent moon. The grip and lever are cleverly contoured to accommodate both Elvish and human hands. A trapdoor on the right swings out to reveal a detachable cylinder with nine empty chambers. Bracing the weapon, you find it bears the same unnatural steadiness of the two sabers. You peek through the long, black scope: the attic is illuminated perfectly, if not desaturated. You aim out the window, but the Fog is an opaque white wall.'
    • Ammunition for the Elvish Carbine
      • '"We found like two hundred and fifty of these." Helen tosses up a skinny bullet, and you catch it midair. It's the big sibling of the golden revolver's cartridges, though it's still no more than a varmint round.

        "Thirty-six are those black-tip 'Stilettos,'" she adds. "You know, the AP rounds."'
    Attic Tower
    • 'Elvish Scrabble Game'
      • 'On the table, the 'Elf scrabble game' is a circular chessboard scattered with small stone counters engraved with tight, curving symbols that remind you of treble clefs. A melted candle nub sits in the board's middle.

        "These are like the runes in the bedroom," you say. "They were in a little bag. They reminded me of Bananagrams."

        Eddie picks up a rune. "I saw those. No, these are . . . different. Not just how they look, but how they feel. It's like if the runes on the computer are 'down,' these are 'up.' I guess it's like the difference between 'Arcane' and 'Divine' magic."'
    • Elvish Shrine
      • 'Inside a cabinet, you see an ornately decorated display case containing a little gold statue of an Elvish woman. At her feet rests a small offering dish.'
    • 'Elvish Tarot Cards'
      • 'a strange deck of Elvish 'Tarot cards'
    Garage
    • Mysterious Amulet (Side 1/Side 2)
      • Found hanging from the Chevy Truck's rear view mirror.
      • 'The palm-size disc is made from a light-shade wood that emanates a faint, creamy scent. A symbol is inked on each side. The first is of a winged serpent issuing alien letters from its mouth. The second is of the constellation Orion with an open hand in the pentagon of the hunter's body. As far as Eddie can tell, they're not runic.'

    Books and Writing
    In the Study:
    • Written by Edward L. Gardner, copyright 1962
    • 'The Biology of Woodland Fairies covers more than what its title would imply. Flipping through, you see chapters covering habitats, histories and social hierarchies. There's also a few pictures, most being drawings, but a few you recognize as the infamous 'fairy photographs' from the early 1900's. If you remember correctly, Sherlock Homes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got duped into believing the hoax. Evidently this book argues the photographs are real.'
    • "The author's a crackpot," Eddie continues, "but I guess that's par for the course. He says fairies are energy beings from the 'astral plane.' They can change appearances and sometimes even materialize into physical form--usually as 'little people.' They're the basis behind not just fairies, but gnomes and leprechauns and other fairy tale shit. Elves too, though they're not the same as the ringworld Elves. Anyway, in their natural state, they look like this."

      He stands beside you and flips through the book in your hands until he comes to a black and white photograph of a foggy grove of trees speckled with hundreds of small translucent blotches. Yesterday, you would have chuckled and dismissed them as rain on a window, but you can see now that doesn't quite fit. The droplets grow cluttered in the pale overcast sky, and if they were yellow and swirling the image would match almost perfectly with the eerie scene outside.

      "They're also known as 'spirit orbs' and tend to hang around cemeteries and haunted houses."

      He turns to another black and white picture, this one exceedingly grainy. The image shows a bright circle hovering before a gravestone.
    • The book has instructions for contacting fairies.
      • '"They have a reputation for being assholes sometimes, but better them than the Deep Ones."'
    • 'According to Eddie, The Biology of Woodland Fairies lists a number of means of protecting against fairies and/or evil spirits, though who can say how accurate these methods are? Along with fire, iron is supposed to be a good ward, but it's not clear whether this has to be pure iron or can be mixed in an alloy.'
    • Cloves, garlic, ginger, sage, parsley, rosemary and thyme are mentioned in the book as fairy deterrents.
    • Eddie wags his flashlight at Maribel's book. "You learn how to contact fairies?"

      "Not yet. But there's instructions on going into a trance. That way the fairies can talk through me."

      "Talk through you? Like, possess you?" Helen asks.

      "They'll only do that if they're evil," Maribel says. "And there's spells to keep bad fairies away . . .
    • Maribel says she can contact them with an Oujia board.
    • Partially read by Eddie and Maribel
    • 'Eddie's eyes light up when he finds a cheap hardcover called, Visions of Y'ha-nthlei. He says the name's from the 'Cthulhu Mythos,' and is supposed to be a city of the 'Deep Ones.' The book seems to investigate a Massachusetts-based cult that worships them.'
    • David Icke is a known 'New Age woo-meister.'
    • The copyright is 1991.
    • ". . . a lot of this book has to do with what happened in Innsmouth."

      "Oh, that," you scoff. "Let me guess: the book says it was 'Deep Ones'."

      "Yeah, pretty much."

      It was one of the worst industrial accidents in US history--worst than even the Texas City Disaster, depending on who you ask. In 1927, a chemical plant exploded near Innsmouth, Massachusetts, killing hundreds and contaminating the surrounding coast. The government ordered an evacuation and cordoned off the town. To this day the fenced-in area is known as the Innsmouth Exclusion Zone.

      The abandoned ruins, perhaps giving a sort of Chernobyl-vibe, have captured the imagination of conspiracy nuts, much the same way they're attracted to the incidents at Roswell or Black Mesa or the so-called 'Philedelphia Experiment.' There's been a number of books and films about what 'really happened'--sometimes it's aliens, sometimes zombies or demons. A horror movie about the town came out a few years ago. You never saw it but you think it involved 'fish men.'

      "Even with all the weirdness going on in this house, this seems like a dead end," you say. "You might as well read about the Chupacabra or the Loch Ness monster."

      "I think it's more relevant than you think," says Eddie.

      "That's cryptic. Care to elaborate?"

      "Let me give you some background first. You know Lovecraft's book, The Shadow Over Innsmouth? This book says it was actually a nonfiction account, that Innsmouth really was the home of a cult called the 'Esoteric Order of Dagon.' It was founded in the 1840's by Obed Marsh, a sea captain who got the idea from some islanders in the South Pacific. Here's a picture of his grandson."

      Eddie flips to a page, and you have to turn on your flashlight to see clearly. The sepia photo's caption reads: Barnabas Marsh, circa 1890's, and shows a robed man sitting in a chair, his hand resting on a stack of books to the side. He wears a strangely pointed hat. There's something about his face . . .

      "You see it, right?" Eddie asks.

      "His mouth's too wide," you decide. "And his eyes are off."

      "The book says it's a sign of interbreeding."

      You squint at your brother incredulously. "With Deep Ones?"

      "Yep, members of the Order had to bump uglies with the fish folk--and also do human sacrifices. Apparently by the 1920's most of the town had what was known as the 'Innsmouth Look.'"

      He turns the pages to two more black and white photographs, one of an old man in a rain slicker, the other a portrait of a woman. Their faces are . . . unsettling.

      "The book says the chemical spill was a cover story," Eddie says. "Instead the government sent in the Army and 'disappeared' all the people who looked like that. Years later, a few soldiers claimed they got into shootouts with 'fish monsters with Tommy guns,' but I guess Deep Ones aren't bulletproof, since the troops won.

      "After that, the Navy dropped depth charges on Devil's Reef off the town's coast. The book claims their target was the undersea city of Y'ha-nthlei, but this David Icke guy doesn't think it was destroyed. He thinks the city exists on a 'higher vibration.'"

      "David Icke also thinks the President's a space lizard," you say. "A few photoshopped pictures and unverified anecdotes aren't very impressive--not compared to the rest of Uncle Grubb's hokum."

      "Hold on, I'm getting to the important part. Anyway, ever since the quarantine went up, the town's been under a constant fog, and some people say they've seen weirdly shaped creatures in the distance. Of course, people say they've seen a lot of things around Innsmouth, but it turns out the Order of Dagon wasn't dead. First they resurfaced in New Orleans, then Haiti and so on. And there have been Deep Ones sightings all over the world."

      "And?" you say dismissively, though the mention of the fog disturbs you.

      The tent's air feels uncomfortably warm. In the dim light, you can just barely make out your brother's grin.

      "You ever heard of Elfstar?" he asks.

      The non-sequitur gives your brain whiplash. After a few seconds, you say, "Wasn't he a singer from the sixties?"

      "Yeah, he was in Mission to Bellona. Acid rock band. Real trippy. Their songs were in multiple languages--some of them made up. The group never made it too big, though they played at Woodstock. He was also in Moby Grape, but only for like a year."

      "And what does he have to do with anything?"

      Eddie is flipping through the book, looking for something. "You remember what Elfstar's gimmick was, right? He'd surgically given himself elf ears--though he claimed he was born with them."

      "No," you say flatly. You don't like where this is going.

      But your brother continues, "He's probably best known for that Laugh In skit where he sang that 'Bilbo Baggins' song. He also played a Vulcan on a Star Trek episode. But it's in the seventies when he got weird. You see, he moved to San Francisco and started his own cult: The Temple of New Atlantians. He claimed he had magic powers and taught his members to do the same. Basically, it was Hogwarts for hippies. He also claimed we needed to prepare for a war against the Deep Ones and that there was going to be a 'New Heavens and New Earth.' What to see what he looks like?"

      "I guess you're going to show me."

      Eddie holds out the book, and you shine over the photo with your flashlight. You see a man in a purple blazer and black turtleneck sweater. Ancient carvings cover the wall behind him. The caption reads: Elfstar at his temple, 1984. Looking at the man's face, any doubt that he isn't your cousin immediately vanish.

      He has the same blond hair that follows the Springwells from one generation to the next, and while his features are softer than Uncle Grubb's chiseled Nordic mien, the resemblance is uncanny. You guess he's about thirty, though it's hard to tell. He could be your older brother. His expression is calm, contemplative. The ear facing the camera ends at a tapered point.

      "So, this is Uncle Grubb's son?" you ask.

      "He has to be." Eddie then quickly adds, "And no, I don't believe any of this is real, but we can see what happened here. Uncle Grubb and Aunt Esha raised their boy totally immersed in their Larping--even going so far as to cut on his ears. He grows up thinking he's an elf from a ringworld and goes balls deep into the hippy New Age movement. As soon as I get internet access, I'm Googling him to see if he's still alive."

      "We should. He is family after all. And maybe we can get some answers from him."
    • Halfway read by Eddie
    • From the bookcase you pull out an ancient leather-bound tome titled, Die Welt der Zwerge und Trolle. It's pages are handwritten in German

      and interspersed with detailed illustrations of hideous, dangerous-looking creatures. One looks like an albino gorilla with three eyes . . .
    • It's nearly too thick to grip with one hand
    • You lean back in the chair and open Die Welt der Zwerge und Trolle. At first you flip through the pages, trying to get a feel for the language. You've studied Latin and know a smattering of German, so deciphering the text is merely awkward, not impossible. Some of the words you think might be neologisms, though you lack a German dictionary to cross-check. Happily, the author makes liberal use of Latin words and phrases. The pages are of a thick, yellowing paper that's very old, but otherwise the book's in good condition. The handwriting is tight and neat.

      On the first page, the author introduces himself as 'Doctor Jochen Ritter von Senckenberg,' a physician with the University of Würzburg. He states that he is writing this journal so that the reader may have a better understanding of 'the people and creatures that inhabit the underworld.' He splits the contents into two parts: one for the Zwerge, the other for the Trolle. The book's first entry is dated, 13 Januar, Die Jahre des Herrn 1767, with an additional note: 260. Jahr der Neuen Erde. '260th Year of the New Earth.'

      You assume at first that the book deals in 'occult knowledge' or a 'secret history,' similar to New Age books that make up nonsense about Roswell or Bigfoot. But Senckenberg feels no need to provide evidence for 'Zwerge und Trolle' ('Dwarves and Trolls') but instead assumes the reader is already familiar with their existence. It's as if he were writing about a subject as mundane as Italians or Ethiopians. Briefly, however, he explains that Dwarves and Trolls live primarily inside mountains, and in Europe most Dwarven settlements lie within the Alps. The Dwarves claim their civilization is many thousands of 'Man years' old, and while Senckenberg doesn't dispute this ('though queer and miserly, Dwarves are honest to a fault'), their world was separate from ours until 'God changed the Heavens and the Earth.'

      Though on average they're 'two heads shorter than the common man,' Dwarves are broader of chest, thicker of limb and inhumanly strong. They're also hairless, though their skin is covered in a gray fungus that makes them look as though they're made of stone. Senckenberg theorizes that this growth is the source of their 'odious stench' and advises travelers to plug their nostrils when with them in close quarters (he however notes that Dwarves find Men just as smelly). A Dwarven lifespan is between two or three centuries. Males and females appear indistinguishable.

      From Senckenberg's inked drawings, Dwarves bear little resemblance to the race from Tolkien's books. Aside from the lack of hair or beards, their arms are longer than their legs, giving them a somewhat apelike appearance, and their faces are distinctly inhuman. They have cleft upper lips, flat, almost nonexistent noses, conical ears and three small eyes that are both beady and bulging, like those of a koala's. The author writes that these eyes are sensitive to sunlight, and Dwarves on the surface will typically wear wide-brim hats and tinted visors.

      Senckenberg describes what he's been able to deduced of Dwarven society, though he admits this has been difficult as they are a secretive race.

      Generally, they live in city-states carved in tunnels beneath mountains, though he makes mention of a sprawling 'Loufear Empire' in the Far East as well as the 'Farastar Kingdoms' in the 'West-Near Americas.' The elective monarchy is the Dwarves' favorite form of government, with candidates being chosen from a number of noble families.

      Aside from the 'Dolomite-Papal Wars' of the late sixteenth century (in which a Dwarven army once laid siege to Rome), conflicts between Dwarves and Men have been limited mostly to small skirmishes, though Dwarven mercenaries have since become a staple of modern warfare. Senckenberg attributes this relative harmony less to a love of peace and more to the fact that, being self-sufficient through their subterranean aquifers and fungi, Dwarves have little interest in surface lands. Human rulers have at times attempted to invade Dwarven cities, but these attempts have almost always ended in disaster for the aggressors. Not least because attacking a mountain fortress is a foolhardy endeavor, but also because of the might of Dwarven war-magic.

      Senckenberg spends an entire chapter dealing with the use and history of runic magic. Being 'attuned to the Earth Elements,' Dwarves not only have the power to 'bend stone' with their bare hands (a fact that makes them challenging to imprison), but by the use of runes they can 'compel spirits to act on their behalf.' The author then goes on a theological tangent, the gist of which is that, as a member of the 'Zoubartic' sect of Christianity, Senckenberg believes that magic and spirits are neither good nor evil but merely a part of the natural world. This is opposed to the Catholic faith, which still holds that Dwarven magic is inherently demonic (however, Senckenberg snidely mentions this doesn't stop Catholic nations from using runic weapons or armor or employing Dwarven mercenaries).

      He describes an ongoing debate as to whether Dwarves are Sons of Adam and then offers his own position: Dwarves share no blood with Man, but they know good from evil and therefore have souls. He conjectures that the Dwarven god 'Hokrom' may be 'but another face of Our Heavenly Father.' Cryptically, he alludes that this question may have ultimately have caused the 'Second Schism,' and then mentions a 'Marshal-Pope in Avignon' but says no more.

      Throughout all this there isn't a single reference to Protestantism.

      And then back on topic. By etching runes on weapons, armor or castle walls (or anything, you gather) and offering prayers to Hokrom, Dwarves are able to imbue these materials with supernatural properties (either through 'elemental magics' or the 'application of otherworldly strength'). A master runic greatsword might be able to slice through a granite or unleash 'blades of wind.' Runic warhammers can project fiery shockwaves or rumble the ground with their blows. Kingly runic plate armor can withstand direct cannon shot--assuming the cannonball itself is not runic.

      While Dwarven musket fire can be devastating, Senckenberg argues that runic artillery is where warfare has seen the greatest change, for the side with the most Dwarven cannon almost invariably wins. The author then describes the Battle of Strasbourg where 'Eis Strom' runic hail-shot not only 'froze and shattered' Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian III's army (and the Emperor himself lost his nose to frostbite), but triggered a 'snowy maelstrom' that wiped out half the the city.

      Every country wants Dwarven equipment, especially artillery, and this stuff isn't cheap. The Dwarves have made a lot of money over the last two centuries, and have invested heavily into businesses throughout Europe. Senckenberg opines that their aptitude for fiscal pursuits 'rivals that of the Jews.' However, unlike the Jews, no one dares persecute the Dwarves.

      The chapter ends with a glossary of Dwarven runes. He admits that it's incomplete, and since only Dwarves can instill power into these runes, the list is for identification purposes only. He does claim, however, that certain devout Zoubaric priests are beginning to craft their own runic magic ('through the Power of Christ'), though as of yet it's no where near the equal of the Dwarves. The runes are chicken scratchings to you, and though you idly wonder whether you can translate the stone tablet in the display case, you skip past this section for now.

      The second part of the book, the one that covers 'Trolls,' is much shorter. Senckenberg stresses that while Dwarves and Trolls share superficial similarities (e.g. three eyes, long arms, gray skin fungi), Trolls are no more like Dwarves than Men are like apes. Trolls are a vicious, cruel race with a 'bestial hunger' and a 'stone-age cunning.' Some breeds are bigger than others; some hunt in packs while others are solitary. Some can even craft runes. But all can be identified by their prominent jaws, their protruding teeth and their small craniums. The accompanying drawings look like hunched and snarling three-eyed gargoyles, their long arms ending with gnarled, clawed hands. One Troll looks like a furless rat; another's more porcine, with an ugly snout and pendulous belly.

      Stronger than Dwarves, they're resistant to both musket and saber and able to ignore grievous wounds. The best way to defeat them is through runic weapons, preferably firearms. Barring that, bright lights can blind, and they're susceptible to fire. But a mere lantern or torch may not be enough: Senckenberg advises the use of magnesium flare sticks, which hurt the eyes with their blaze. He then goes on to explain that these flares are used by mercenary 'Troll hunters' (many whom are Dwarves) to disable before the killing blow.

      Trollish have plagued Europe since 'the Change,' usually hunting a small packs though sometimes they raid in armies hundreds strong, eating entire villages before slinking back into the mountains. The book ends with a grisly account of the Troll Hunter Enzo d'Arvieux's excursion into a cavern in the Scottish Highlands. There, he encountered hundreds of 'demonic totems' crafted from victims' bodies. A few victims were kept alive in cages, but d'Arvieux was unable to save them since the Trolls had 'consumed their feet, among other parts' and they appeared to be in the advanced stages of blood poisoning. Filled with righteous anger, d'Arvieux and his men used 'Dwarven blasting powder' to collapse the cave, wiping out the pack.

      You close Die Welt der Zwerge und Trolle and look at your phone. It's only been a little over an hour. But then you're a fast reader, and the thick, sturdy pages made the book seem longer than it really was. That, and you skimmed the parts where Senckenberg went on about 'the four humours of Dwarves' or the 'metaphysical theories of thaumatology' or 'thoughts on the location of Hades.' The book has a lot of silliness, but as a work of alternate history, it's fascinating. But frustratingly, it only touches on major geopolitical changes.

      For example, at one point Senckenberg mentions 'the stretching of the seas' and 'the new heavens' and how this disrupted navigation and trade, but he never elaborates (It however makes you think of the map on the cover of On God's Ring and the jumbled up continents). You've pieced together from offhand comments that France has been embroiled in crippling succession wars, and Spain and Portugal are suffering a renewed Moorish invasion. So it looks as if only England has a foothold in the Americas, though the author has little to say about that. On a couple of occasions, he mentions the 'Elf Lands across the Southern Sea' and an 'Arc of Heaven' in the sky, but you wish he explained when he meant.'
    • Read by you
    • 'You're about to stand up, but you spot on the floor a relatively pristine book: On God's Ring: The Great Transmigration and the New Age of Colonialism, by Charles A. Beard. You recognize the author as a famous historian, but that's not what catches your eye. You brush away the dust on the jacket to better show the detailed color picture below the title. It's a map. An impossible map.
    • 'The continents in the center are familiar enough, but they're laid out wrong, distorted, as if the Earth had been peeled and stretched on a flat surface. Europe is directly 'north' of North America. Australia is thousands of miles from Antarctica. But there's also other continents along the edge of the oval-shaped map. You don't recognize them at all.
    • You open the book and see that it's a first edition, copyright: 1931. Which is absurd, since the pages aren't even yellowed. The table of contents lists chapters such as, 'The Early Panic,' 'The Great Expedition,' 'First Encounters with the Elvish Tribes,' 'Missionaries, Colonists and Elvish Immigrants,' 'Adventures of the HMS Enterprise,' and 'The Aesiran Republic.' And that's just 'Part One: The History' It's a thick book.
    • Halfway read by Eddie
    • ''Eddie lifts his nose from the book and grins, his blue eyes gleaming. "Get this: On March 3rd, 1901, the sky turns into a kaleidoscope acid trip, and everyone thinks the sun's exploding or it's the Second Coming or whatever. And when it all clears, the moon's gone. The planets are gone. And all the stars are different. The sun's still there, but there's also a hair-thin line that goes across the sky like a huge arch. It doesn't take long for people to realize that approaching ships don't 'come over the horizon' anymore, they just slowly fade into view. The world's now flat, laid out like a map; the continents aren't where their supposed to be. And the sun doesn't rise or set any more but instead goes into an eclipse every eleven and a half hours. Come on, Bert, can you guess what happened?"

      You hold up Senckenberg's book. "I think the world in this book's gone through something similar, but theirs happened in 1507."

      Eddie nods, his grin broadening. "Yeah, they got radio signals from other 'Earths' snatched from other time periods, so they know they're not the only one on the ring. Anyway, Uncle Grubb was a genius. He should have published this. This would make an awesome RPG setting."

      "What are you talking about? What's 'the ring'?"

      "The ringworld," he says.

      "Ringworld," you repeat. The term sounds familiar.

      Eddie puts the book in his lap. "It's like . . . okay, Earth orbits about ninety-three million miles from the sun, right? Now, instead of Earth being there, imagine there's a ribbon that follows the orbit. It's a ribbon that's so long that it forms a ring around the sun--a ring a hundred and eighty-six million miles wide."

      "That's wide," you say.

      "Yeah, and now imagine the ring is rotating around the sun so fast that it gives the inside gravity through centrifugal force."

      "Like those plans they have for wheel-shaped space stations," you say. "Like the one from 2001: A Space Odyssey."

      "Yeah, or like Halo, but on a much, much, much larger scale. The ribbon itself is a million miles wide, so its inside would have a surface area of millions of Earths. And once it's spinning, you can stick thousand mile high walls on the side and fill it with atmosphere, water, land, whatever."

      Visualizing a structure of this scale boggles your mind, though you strongly suspect it'd be impossible to build. Surely no material could be strong enough to support something that size. Not that that matters. It's not like this is real.

      "So, in this book, the surface of Earth in 1901 was peeled off and teleported--or, 'transmigrated'--to the inside of a ringworld?"

      "Well, the book doesn't call it a ringworld," Eddie explains. "'Ringworld' was coined by Larry Niven in the seventies. This book calls it 'God's Ring,' because pretty much everyone agrees it's an act of god." He opens the book and shows you a couple of pictures.

      The first is an illustration showing a star with a slender ring around it. The second is a black and white photo of a diagonal, splotchy band across a backdrop of stars.

      "Is that the 'ribbon'?"

      Eddie nods. "It's a photo of the opposite side of the ring, taken by astronomers in 1902. That gray band's nearly a million miles wide. Each one of those little black and white dots is an ocean or a continent. Earth would just be a tiny drop."

      "Huh," you say, trying to wrap your head around that. "So, what did they do next?"

      "Okay, so at first there was a lot of panic. A lot of crazy cults sprang up. Some were Bible-thumping doomsdayers, some worshiped a bunch of old pagan gods, and some were lifted straight out Lovecraft. The book lists sightings of what sound like Deep Ones, and even mentions the Esoteric Order of Dagon, the Church of Starry Wisdom and a few others.

      "But anyway, people soon grok that there's new lands beyond Earth's 'borders,' and so they get in ships and set out exploring. A couple of months after the Event, some robed cultist guy headshots President McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt's sworn in. He gets gung-ho about building a big fleet and going full out expansionist. About this time the elves are discovered, but they're a bunch of runty little primitives, which of course means they need white men with guns tell them about Jesus.

      "The first decade is a huge land grab. Lots of natural resources. Lots of ancient elven temples and crypts to loot--most filled with monsters and magic swords and shit. And there's the colonization. Pretty much any nation that's not landlocked plants flags as fast as they can send out ships. There's a lot of independent settlements too, usually religious ones like Mormons and Amish. There's also 'filibusters,' basically assholes who load up on boomsticks and try to scare the fuzzy-wuzzies into making them king.

      "The British Empire goes into imperialist overdrive; America and Germany get into a dick-waving contests. But mostly everyone behaves themselves--no World War One. I guess no one wants to fight in trenches when there's new lands to exploit.

      "Literal boatloads of elves immigrate into the US. Mostly servants and cheap labor, though the book says a lot of elf girls wind up in whorehouses.

      There's also discrimination, and the 'Elvish Influenza' of 1913 doesn't help. Lots of anti-elf laws are passed, and some elves turn to crime. You have elven gangsters and 'gypsy bands.' Some elven 'shamans' have psychic powers and use this to rob banks and confuse cops and stuff.

      "Anyway, the elves cause trouble in the colonies too, but the big nuisances there are big scary things like dinosaurs and dragons and sea serpents and, oh yeah, these really tough, gray-skinned, three-eyed alien-things that people call 'Morlocks,' like out of The Time Machine. They live in caves, hunt at night and are always chaotic evil."

      You gesture with your book. "They're called 'Trolls' in here. Or at least the bad ones are."

      "Yeah," Eddie says. "Same 'verse, I guess. Anyway, the Morlocks killed Teddy. After his second term was up, he went along on the 'Great Expedition,' where the 'Great White Fleet' sailed around all the outer colonies and showed the world how big its dick was. He decided to go on a safari, do some big game hunting. Here he is riding a raptor.

      You look at the photo. Sure enough, it's TR on a dinosaur. "Morlocks ate him?"

      "Yep, overran his camp. Never found his body. It was around this time the fleet came across the Aesiran Republic. You see, most elf civs' tech was somewhere between Stone and Iron Age, but the Aesirans were totally steampunk. They were a little backwards, about Civil War-level in most things, but this was more than made up by the fact that they have flying ships. Here, look."

      The photo is of two craft that look like a cross between a dirigible, a naval vessel and a submarine. They have gun turrets and smokestacks.

      "The Aesirans have 'Cavorite.' Or at least that's what we humans call it. It's basically 'anti-gravity-helium.' You burn these rocks, and it makes a magic gas. This gives their airships enough lift that they can coat them with armor, mount big guns on them. The Aesirans are peaceful enough, if a little snooty, but we shit kittens at these uppity elves. And we go all, 'there must not be a Cavorite gap!' The problem is Cavorite ore isn't local.

      It's all in faraway continents, and the Aesirans don't want to share. Right now--'now' being 1931--we're prospecting in distant medieval elf lands to find the stuff, and the Aesirans are getting pissed because they think only they should have weapons of mass flying. The book suggests tensions are pretty high. It might lead to a war."

      You pull out the rolled newspaper from your back pocket and hold up the headline. "Looks like it did."'
    • '"On God's Ring never says anything about heartstones, so that can't be the only way of . . . 'triggering.' But anyway, Elves are far more likely to have psychic powers than humans. The book doesn't give exact figures, but it guesstimates one out of every few hundred Elves has the 'gift.' With humans it's more like one out of every few hundred thousand.'
    • '. . . a rolled up paper. It's a map of the surrounding geography penned over with strange calculations and measurements.'
      • 'He unrolls a paper and holds it out. It's the map you saw earlier, the one scribbled over with strange calculations. The terrain is clearly local: the green patch is labeled, Henrietta Woods, and it even has the thin gray stripe of Texas 148 running along the bottom. You recall there's a similar map folded in the last volume of the journals.

        "I don't know what the equations mean, but look how these wavy graph lines intersect here." Eddie points at a black dot in the epicenter of the mathematical gibberish. "What if this house is built on a 'weak spot,' a place where other dimensions bleed through? Maybe that's what the Fog is."'
      • Unstudied, but you likely lack the scientific skill to fully understand it,
    • 'An entire shelf is dedicated to 'science,' or pseudoscience, anyway. Some of the titles are: Geomagnetic Morphology, Leyline Energy Grids, Akashic Field Theory and Astral Dynamics.'
      • All Unread

    In the bedroom behind the stairway:
    • The newspaper: 'You skim the first few paragraphs of the article. "Weird, it says 'New

      Bristol' is three thousand miles south of Antarctica.What the hell could that mean?" You feel like you're missing some vital context, but flipping through the pages (the quality of the paper doesn't seem even close to eighty years old) you catch a couple of mentions of a 'Great Transmigration.'

      Whatever that is.'
    • It's dated 'July 13, 1932,' and judging by the radio station , the present year can't be more than a decade or so after that.

      The surprise bombing of Avon and New Bristol decimated the Royal Navy's Far Antarctic Fleet, sinking the carriers Argus, Courageous and Glorious, and the battleship Marlborough. Nearly three thousand died in the attack, a quarter being civilians. The elves' assault was particularly brutal due to their 'telepathic onslaught,' which disoriented fighter pilots and bridge crews.

      Honoring the 1920 European Powers Alliance, France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungry, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Sweden-Norway have followed Great Britain in declaring war on the Aesiran Republic. President Rockefeller has opted to keep the United States neutral, though he promises to aide the EPA with supplies, including cavorite ore from the New Oregon mines. Special shipyards are already constructing more Daedalus class aerial destroyers, but the current scarcity of the gravity-defying element is problematic. At the conclusion of the report, there's speculation over how this might influence the ongoing Sino-Japanese War and the Far Pacific Company's conflicts in Zurain, but goes into no detail.

      To clarify the many false rumors and misunderstandings, there's an article (called 'Who are the Aesirans?' by John M. Keynes) which summarizes what is known of these mysterious elves--mostly gleamed from neighboring tribes and kingdoms. The Aesirans reside in a land called 'Jaga-ma' in the 'Jah-hana super-continent' located approximately seventy-five thousand miles 'south' of Antarctica. A group of 'Other Earth' Germans once lived among them, displaced over a century ago by an unknown teleportation process. These humans eventually came to rule over Jaga-ma, though this was but a nominal agreement between feuding factions following a civil war. The sides hated each other, and the Germans were accepted as a third party compromise. A 'Provisional Empire' was founded, complete with a puppet Kaiser and Parliament whose authority didn't extend beyond the German-populated enclave.

      The arrangement proved a disaster. Corruption was rampant. Expensive wars led to poverty; poverty led to unrest.

      The article compares the scenario with the French Revolution. However, unlike France's First Republic, the Aesirans espouse a political system more akin to Karl Marx's communism ('an anarchic philosophy inspiring numerous failed movements across Europe'). The Aesirans' 'Napoleon' can be found in Consul Karr V'Janahavabor, a formidable telepath and aeromancer of Jaga-ma's 'Sorcerer Corps,' who seized control shortly after the rebellion.

      The paper displays his grainy picture. He's a slender, balding elf, levitating on a stage before a crowded rally. He is shouting; his eyes bulge with fury. The skeletal prosthetic attached to his shoulder ends with a metal fist which he thrusts upwards in triumph. His military tunic is spangled with medals. A cloak billows behind him. In the backgrounds hangs the banner of a two-headed dragon.

      The Aesrians have recently developed airplanes, further strengthening their air superiority. Because they're physically weaker than humans, they employ 'Negro mercenaries' for both their infantry and motorcorps (you remember Uncle Grubb described the Venda Ka as 'coal skinned'). Having existed on the Ring for centuries, their influence sprawls for thousands of miles around Jaga-ma, dwarfing Earth's empires. Fortunately, Aesiran power is not unchecked. For the last seven years the Republic has been at war with the Confederation of Swan Kingdoms, another elvish nation in Jah-hana. The EPA is working to establish an embassy in their faraway capital, Zapaport.

      The paper presents two opinion pieces.

      The editorial is by Hereward Carrington, a famous psychical researcher and science consultant. He urges psychic elves loyal to the United States to offer their services to the military. He also promotes the study of 'Platonic Symbology,' in which certain symbols can be imbued with mental 'thought-forms,' granting protections or enhancements. He stresses that, despite popular belief, these are not superstitious nonsense but rather how elves regularly 'enchant' items and counter 'magical' effects.

      The op-ed is by Charles Davenport, a renown eugenicist. He calls for the elves to be confined to camps for the duration of the war. While the US is--for now--neutral, it's only a matter of time before the country is dragged into the fray. Meanwhile, every elf on the street might be an Aesiran spy sent to wreak havoc. Internment is the most practical and humane method of dealing with this threat. And while the elves are grouped together, doctors can sterilize their malcontents, removing criminal traits from the gene pool.
    • 'Stuck in a side pouch in the chest is a leather-bound book. You flip through its pages and see various inked etchings and schematics, but the hieroglyphic-looking text is of no language you've ever seen.'
    • Unread, in the hieroglyphic language

    In the Basement:
    • 'a blackboard chalked with calculations'
    • Unstudied.
    • 'On the bookcase, the majority of the volumes are in either Elvish or the hieroglyphic language, but you note a number of old, thick, Germanese books:
      • Klostermanns Theoretisch Runelogie (Klostermann's Theoretical Runeology)
      • Das Neue Platonismus (The New Platonism)
      • Eine Abhandlung über Panpsychismus (A Treatise on Panpsychism)
      • Void , Substanz und das Träumen Gott (Void, Substance and the Dreaming God)
      • Das Welt und das Abyss (The World and the Abyss)'
    • All unread.
    • Klostermanns Theoretisch Runelogie is a thaumatological textbook published in 352 N.E. (or, A.D. 1859). The contents cover the advanced grammar and interactions between the five primary runic 'schools.' Three of these are associated with different Elvish faiths, one is solely the domain of the Dwarves and the last is the creation of the Zoubartic Church.

      Runes are used to augment, propagate or defend against magical effects. That much you already know, but the book delves into the metaphysical 'why.' There's a lot on Plato and Aristotle, as well as the sixteenth century alchemists, Paracelsus and Cardano. The explanations about 'eternal objects' and 'irreducible semantics' fly over your head, but Eddie more or less follows along. As before, he semi-recognizes some of the runes.

      One page shows the etched cross symbol you remember from the stone block in the lakebed. The inked, spiraled pattern twitches like a dying spider.

      Eddie taps it. "This, it protects from 'bad vibes.'"

      You read its description; sure enough, it wards off Gnostic, or mental, attacks. "You can tell just by looking at it?"

      "Like I said before, it's self-evident. You might as well ask me, 'How do you know a circle's round?'

      He searches for runes in the spreadsheet program and tinkers with various plugins. The algorithms are complex enough that it'd take years to comprehend the subject, but as you read the chapter on 'sequencing,' you have reason to believe that dispelling the Fog might not be as difficult as you feared.

    In the Basement Alcove:
    • an ancient German Bible
    • a door-stopper edition of Goethe's Faust
      • You have read Faust
    • a mottled copy of The Return of the King that probably dates to the seventies
      • had a bookmark of a kitten in a wizard hat.
      • You and Eddie have read The Return of the King
    • several yellowed paperbacks
    • old issues of Archaeology and National Geographic

    In the Library:
    • 'Eddie hands you a jacketless hardcover. The spine reads: Psychical Phenomena Among the Elves by Hereward Carrington. The copyright is 1924. Skimming through, you see the book deals with various parapsychology experiments as well as reports of famous (and infamous) Elvish psychics in the United States.'
    • A dozen or so pages are dedicated to black and white photos. One shows a gypsy-dressed Elf woman levitating while basketball-sized globes of water circle around her. By the crowded stadium seats behind her, you guess she's a circus performer.

      In another, this one somewhat blurred as if snapped on the run, six little men in suits and fedoras are rushing out of a building. Some hold canvas sacks, others small pistols, but what really stands out are the dozen or so shiny metal disks hovering above them. One disk is swerving towards the camera.

      The caption reads: 'The Dicers Six Gang during a 1921 bank robbery in Sacramento, California. All members had powers, but most infamous was Zurain immigrant 'Rough Cut' Zarzola. A ferro-specialized psychokinetic, his weapons of choice were levitating circular saw blades which he used to grizzly effect. Journalist Dorothea Lang was decapitated moments after taking this photograph.'
    • Half-assedly skimmed by Helen.
    • 'One book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle catches your eye: The Lost Treasure of Min'Karanda. You've never heard of that one before. You take it down and, reading by flashlight, flip through the text until mentions of 'elven tribesmen' confirm your suspicions. There's even illustrations of pointy-eared little people dressed like Native Americans.'
    • Unread
    • 'An Encyclopedia Britannica set takes up the bottom shelf of one of the bookcases. It's the thirteenth edition, copyright 1926. Already knowing what you'll find, you grab the volume titled, Education-Excavation and look up the entry for 'Elves.' You sigh and shake your head as you read about their discovery, their customs, the differences in their anatomy, etc, with a sizable section detailing the Aesiran Republic (which has its own article).'
      [*]'. . . you look up 'psychic research.' There's an article on Elvish 'shamans' (along with a photo of a small woman levitating above a crowd), but it's disappointingly brief.'
    • The Encyclopedia Britannica has no entry under 'Deep Ones,' but you find one under, 'Fish Men.'

      The article briefly delves into their role in ancient mythology (they're the basis of mermen legends), but they didn't capture the public's imagination until after the Great Transmigration. Since then, there have been Fish Men sightings along the New England coast, as well as around Cornwall and the Stockholm archipelago.

      A Masonic chapter based in Innsmouth, Massachusetts has long been rumored to have dealings with these creatures, but an investigation ordered by Governor Jedidiah Marsh found these claims groundless. Radio personality Father Coughlin blamed the 'fish stories' on Elvish sorcery, an accusation which prompted the 1925 'Easter Witch Hunt,' where an angry mob lynched three Elvish women. One was the youngest daughter of Shaman Bakala-Doom, who in retaliation inflicted 'a plague of rats' on the town of Rowley, killing thirty-six and forcing an evacuation.

      The article ends with speculation that Fish Men may exist, but so far the evidence is inconclusive.
    • Mostly unread
    • 'Maribel points to a desk where a very obsolete PC sits. Cobwebs shroud the bulky, small-screened monitor and CPU beneath; dust blankets the keyboard and mouse pad. A printer and scanner in similar states flank the old machine.

      Helen snickers. "What's it operate under? Windows '87?"

      Kneeling close, Eddie blows and then coughs, waving a hand at the resulting white cloud. He shines a flashlight along the front of the computer and taps a small label. "Look here: 'Gateway 2000, P5-60.' That's like early nineties. Shit, I wonder if this still works."'
    • A couple of dozen 3.5 inch floppies are piled to the side. Some are Microsoft programs such as Excel and Word, and others are more esoteric software that by their names you guess have to do with mathematics. Most, however, only have messily handwritten labels with cryptic names such as, 'Platonic Algorithms 13' and 'Semantic Meta-Analysis 27.'
    • "I have no idea what any of this means. Everything's either runes or in German or whatever."

      "Let me see." You slide out of the chair and crouch by his side. On the screen Eddie's opened a very antiquated spreadsheet program, the interface graphics large and blocky. Dwarven runes take up most of the rectangular cells. As Eddie highlights each one, different Germanese descriptions appear in the text space above.

      "It's like equations or something," Eddie says. "You can plug in different runes for different results. See?"

      He selects a symbol that looks like a fish bone, another that looks like a stick-figure dog with a star for a head and a third comprised of a winged triangle over a cross. The 'answer cell' flashes new runes: a very skinny dragon, a cube with eye-stalks and a backwards 'K.' Reading over the Germanese descriptions, you catch the phrases, 'Werden gemeinshaft ständnis / Erfarungs-aggregatio.'

      "I . . . don't know what that means either," you say. "But I have a theory as to what this is for."

      "Some sort of translator program?"

      "Maybe, but I think it's more than that. You remember when Goosie went through her poetry phase?"

      "Oh yeah. That was back when she was like thirteen. You know it was only because she had a crush on that Katie Garrison girl."

      "I think you're right; it was obvious in hindsight. But anyway, Goosie had that magnetic poetry kit, the one with all those words you could stick on the refrigerator to form phrases."

      "I made some dirty limericks out of those."

      You grin. "I remember."

      "So you think this is a 'runic poem maker'?"

      "Not necessarily poems, but something along those lines, though probably constrained by whatever grammar rules Uncle Grubb made up for the language.

      This is just a guess, though. It's going to take a while to work all this out."

      "That might be a problem," he says. "You hear that sound?"

      You lean forward. Over the whir of the computer's fan and the propane generator's background drone, you notice a soft-grinding sound coming from inside the machine.

      "Death rattle?" you ask.

      "Not yet, but the hard drive's not long for this world. I can't even back up the files to my laptop, because this computer pre-dates USB ports. It can't even burn CDs. I could put stuff on the floppies, but that'd take forever. And my laptop can't read those anyway. The best way would be to hook up the hard drive directly, but I'd need adapters I don't have."
    • Cleaned and operated by Eddie.
    • Damaged in the 'Great Hall Windstorm.' May be beyond repair.
    • 'Skimming the dusty spines, you notice works by Joseph Conrad, H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, and others.'
    • There's a number of World Almanacs
    • All unread

    Uncle Grubb's Bedroom
    • 'Deeper into one of the drawers, you come across a small, softcover leather book shut with a button clasp. Carefully, you open it to find it handwritten in German . . . but not any kind of German you've seen before. Some of the words are spelled strangely, and a few don't even use the Roman alphabet. You have a feeling this will prove harder to translate than the Die Welt der Zwerge und Trolle.

      Browsing by flashlight, you note each entry has three dates. For example, on the first page: "3. Januar 2001 / 5. Mai 1935 / 31. Oktobor 498. Jahr

      der Neuen Erde
      ." Whole sections are of what look like to be 'sentence diagrams' with runic sequences. There are side notes mentioning 'Spinozas Nebel,' or 'Spinoza's Fog,' along with a bunch of mathematical formulas that you couldn't make sense of if someone held a gun to your head. You know Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch philosopher, but the rest is gobbledygook.

      Slipped between the pages, however, is a folded map of the local area: the house, woods and surrounding twenty or so miles. Wavy lines cover certain areas, and though the German is hard to decipher, you catch the word 'magnetreonanz' a few times. Whatever that means.'
    • '"I think we have the rest here," Helen says and pulls out a handful of similar leather books, though these covers are more creased and worn.

      "There must be like a dozen of them.'
    • '. . . you climb the creaky stairs, enter the bedroom and from the chest retrieve what you think is the earliest volume of Uncle Grubb's journals.

      The first page reads only one date:"1. März, 451. Jahr der Neuen Erde."'
    • On the inside cover you see an inked seal and a flag. The seal is the two-headed dragon of the Aesirin Republic, though this one has a crown over the twin heads. The flag is white over green with a shield in the center bearing a green sash over yellow and black stripes. Along the bottom are two green zodiac suns. You find the flag vaguely familiar.

      Uncle Grubb begins with, "This is the Expeditionary Journal of Gerbern Ernestine-Wettin, Reichsgraf of New Dresden, Welt-Springer and great-great-great-grandnephew of Sigivald the First, Sarvesara-Kaiser of Greater Jaganma" Well, you're related to royalty. How about that?

      He doesn't give much background information--it's almost as if he expects you to know who he is--but he mentions his younger siblings, Fulbert and Hilda (You wince at the revelation--assuming its true) as well as his fiance, Esha ku V'Janahavabor, a gifted 'runologist' and the eldest daughter of an elvish 'Makha,' which you guess is a title of nobility. Though young, Grubb says he holds a doctorate in theoretische physik as well as the rank of Korvettenkapitän in the Kaiserliche Marine, though the latter he admits he purchased rather than earned. However, this, combined with his wealth, grants him the authority to requisition airships for special assignments, which in turn allows him to indulge his fiance's passion: archaeology. At this point in the journal, Uncle Grubb engages in a bout of exposition.

      Far 'Left Spinward' of the Jaganma Reich are the Vendi-Ka Wastes: nine ruined continents that a half millennium ago were the home to a number of advanced human civilizations. Not only had they harnessed the power of 'mikrorunen,' 'luftsteine' and 'herzstine' ('micro runes,' 'air stones' and 'heart stones'), but could soar above the atmosphere itself. They built 'diamond cities.' They created alchemical brains and put them inside steel men. To the elves with their swords and castles, the Vendi-Ka were like gods.

      But there was a war. No one knows why, but the Vendi-Ka nations fought each other not with armies but with 'sorcerous infernos.' The few eye witness accounts describe fiery toadstools obliterating entire cities. Poisonous ash drifted across the ocean and descended upon the Jaga'han lands. Crops withered, sickness spread. The Winter Years followed, and three out of four elves perished.

      A few human refugees made new homes in Jaa'hana, and though there was great resentment, their scientific knowledge and remnant machines helped launched the elves into a new age of steam and luftsteine. But as great as the Jaga'han people have risen, most of the wonders of Vendi-Ka remain lost.

      With his brief history lesson out of the way, Uncle Grubb declares that he intends to do nothing less than revolutionize the empire. He won't merely scour desert ruins for broken baubles: he plans to explore Vendi-Ka's last city: D'yute, or, known among Germans as, 'der Herbststadt' (the Autumn City) or Duellona.

      The legends differ, but most agree it was an experiment gone wrong that made the city what it is. Shrouded under perpetual fog, Duellona survived the Vendi-Ka War and stands to this day, forever unchanging in its 'wirbel der zeit ('vortex of time'). Explorers have entered its white clouds, but most never return. The few who did, emerged only decades later, untouched by the passing years. They told of abandoned diamond towers filled with technological treasures.

      Of the original inhabitants, a few remain, but as the fog has made them effectively immortal, the long centuries have driven them mad--some violently so, others merely akin to 'gypsies and vagabonds.' Custodian automatons still patrol the smooth cobble streets, seemingly oblivious to the disaster.

      Some explorers report seeing 'frog men' under in city's harbor waters and three-eyed abominations lurking in its sewers (Uncle Grubb points out these latter can only be Trolls--creatures otherwise unknown to the Jaga'han Elves).

      But Duellona's most peculiar characteristic is its warping of time and space. The elvish adventurer, Meero D'Merski, once likened the phenomena to a serpent eating its tail. Days repeat like reoccurring dreams. Whole neighborhoods disappear and reappear. Walk down a straight street and more often than not you'll find yourself arriving where you began. And the distortions are as fickle as the weather. 'It is an inconstant city,' Uncle Grubb writes.

      Though Duellona contains marvels that could advanced the Reich by generations, most people are understandably leery about entering its domain. However, Uncle Grubb and Esha have developed a defense against the fog, named 'Spinoza's Fog' after the English scientist, Benedict Spinoza. By combining 'Platonic equations,' 'runic semantics' and his own 'Erbfaktor' ('inherited trait,' 'gene'), Grubb and Esha have been able to craft a 'gedankenform barriere' to protect both themselves and the airship during the expedition.

      You skim the next few pages. Uncle Grubb 'shows his work,' but to you it's mathematical gibberish. He does say that preliminary tests with Fog from the 'Dortmund Portals' prove the runes will work but neglects to explain what these portals are, though by the offhand way he mentions them, you surmise these are well-known to the intended audience. After more physics stuff, he comments that the portals allow one to cross 'three million miles of Ring with a single step' and that perhaps even 'the Change' itself had something to do with the properties of Fog (though he admits this is conjecture).

      Uncle Grubb then goes on a tangent defending his marriage to Esha. Though he's a bearer of the 'Welt Springer Erbfaktor' ('World Jumper Gene'--you get goosebumps. It never occurred to you to consider what your family name meant) and is thus expected to keep the bloodline pure, Fulbert and Hilda are already doing that. And while miscegenation is frowned upon, Grubb argues that this makes this union all the more important: by marrying Esha, he's helping bridge the gulf between two cousin races,' 'equal in both intellect and spirit . . . if not stature.'

      "Und auch," Uncle Grubb writes, "ich liebe sie."

      The rest of this journal entry is a nearly stream-of-consciousness spiel about how wonderful she is. She's beautiful. She's funny. She's smart--no, not just smart: brilliant. She's a prodigy. She loves mythology and poetry. She plays the harpsichord. She won the 'Purple Dragon' in women's fencing. She attended Zaila University where she studied runology, archaeology and linguistics. Recently, she received a commission of Leutnant zur Luft in the Kaiserliche Marine. Uncle Grubb's known her since they were children. She's his muse. She's the light of his world.'

    • Under an entry dated, 22. März, 451. Jahr der Neuen Erde, Uncle Grubb spends a few pages describing the SMS Humperdinck and the SMS Pfeil, the airships assigned for the expedition. The Humperdinck is a Achenbach-class korvette, and at 215 feet and 1,900 tons is the 'longer, fatter sister' of the 205 foot, 1,050 ton Pfeil (German for 'Arrow'), a Blitz-class aviso. Grubb gleefully lists the ships' various stats, but most of the numbers and jargon fly over your head.

      The gist however is that while these ships are somewhat antiquated (The Pfeil is a veteran of the Spice Wars), they've been heavily retrofitted with the best technology money can buy. Uncle Grubb mentions vacuum-insulated luftsteine boilers, and steam turbines enhanced with the latest mechanica mikrorunen. In loving detail, he expounds on why the swept-tip propellers improve propulsion, why the turret guns have increased firepower and why the Dwarven steel hulls have the best rating. 'These ships are Wonders of the Machine Age!' he humbly declares.

      Of course, for this expedition the most important components are the defensive runes developed by he and Esha. Only with these will they be able to transverse Duellona's Fog. Here Uncle Grubb has drawn a diagram. The angular, alien symbols are arrayed in a galaxy swirl of nested octagons that you find somehow disorienting. You remind yourself these are only inked shapes on paper, yet when you stare at them they seem to drift faintly, like oil over water. A dull ache grows behind your eyes. Quickly, you turn the page.

      As a loan from the Thaumatological Academy of New Dortmund, Uncle Grubb will take on the journey two priceless herzsteine ('heart stones'), old relics from the Vendi-Ka Wastes. Normally, these red crystal spheres are used to determine whether one was born with a Erbfaktor and its class and level. However, the stones can also be used to augment the gedankenformen ('thoughtforms') behind 'Platonics' and 'runic semantics'--vital for transversing the Fog.

      You pause and pull the red crystal ball from your pocket. The glassy surface lights up dimly at the contact with your skin, and you're almost certain now it's radiating a subtle warmth. Does this mean you have magic powers? Without instructions on how to interpret the effects of the 'heartstone,' you can only guess. You glance at Eddie, but his nose is buried in a book. You place the heartstone on the desk beside the cardboard box and then pick up the journal and keep reading.

      Aside from standard crews, Uncle Grubb has hired four Elvish sorcerers: a husband-wife team of 'Gnostics' as well as two 'Elementalists.' He's also garnered the interests of a young Dwarf named Widari, who just so happens to be a member of the vastly wealthy Eirohm Family--one of the Empire's largest arms manufacturers. Eager for adventure (and patent rights on discovered tech), Widari has not only helped finance the expedition, but supplied Uncle Grubb's naval infantry platoon with the finest body armor and repeating rifles.

      While reading this, you've pieced together clues sprinkled throughout Uncle Grubb's writing. From an offhand comment that the Dortmund Portals are 'unaligned,' and from the apparent lack of communication with the 'Fatherland,' you conclude these Germans are cut off from their Earth. This doesn't seem to be a new situation; it's possibly been this way for decades.

      The Jaganma Reich seems to consist mainly of Elves, which suggests the stranded colony has undergone mass immigration. You gather the Germans are the ruling class, though the Elves have their own aristocracy. Uncle Grubb states that Dwarves are rare, which you guess is because so few of them were on the Jaganma-side when the portals closed. He also mentions the 'coal-faced Vendi' (the infantry captain is one) which are probably human descendants of the Vendi-Ka.

      Christianity exists in Jaganma, at least in the form of the 'Zoubartic' sect. Some elves have converted (the Water/Air Elementalist is an ordained priest), though you don't think this is the norm. Both the Humperdinck and Pfeil have their own shamans, and Uncle Grubb seems slightly derisive of the Elves' 'pagan ways,' which evidently includes the faith of his fiance.

      You get the impression that there's a racial division between occupations. All infantry for the expedition are human (Uncle Grubb describes the difficulty in renovating their elf-scale quarters to human proportions), which implies that's who infantry tend to be. However, most of the crew, as well as the four 'sorcerers,' are Elves.

      The Empire also seems to be only a small part of a 'Jaa'hana' region or continent. Uncle Grubb name-drops a 'Confederation' and mentions wars in neighboring countries, but doesn't offer enough context to know the big picture. You really wish you could ask Uncle Grubb about this world. The journal just isn't enough.
    • The Anti-Fog Runes
      • 'The angular, alien symbols are arrayed in a galaxy swirl of nested octagons that you find somehow disorienting. You remind yourself these are only inked shapes on paper, yet when you stare at them they seem to drift faintly, like oil over water. A dull ache grows behind your eyes. Quickly, you turn the page.'
      • You all try copying the octagonal diagram onto notebook paper. That the symbols seem to faintly wiggle like worms makes the task impossible for you. Even tracing them doesn't work as your lines swerve wrong no matter how you move your pencil. You can feel their otherworldly essence and nearly see it in your mind, yet they elude you.

        A fairly accomplished doodler, Helen draws the pattern with relative ease, but the reproduction is lifeless, lacking the uncanny depth and movements of the original. Curiously, your twin finds nothing disorienting about the runes.

        "They just look like a bunch of squiggles to me," she says.

        Maribel's copy inflicts the subtle 'wrongness,' but not enough to give you a headache. It's Eddie's that best reproduces the eerie effect.

        To experiment, you use your phone to take a picture of the diagram. The photo is as lifeless as Helen's.

        Standing by the window, Eddie holds the journal with one hand, his other resting atop the page. He squints through the glass into the outside whiteness.

        "At least we know the runes work," he says. "When I touch them, the Fog really does thin out. Not totally, but I can see the graveyard."

        "Any zombies?" Helen asks. "That'd be just our luck, you know."

        Testing the diagram, you find it works for both Maribel and yourself, though at least for you the Fog's thinning is unhelpfully weak. Like milk and water, it looks diluted, yet is still more or less opaque. With Eddie's copy, the effect is diminished but otherwise the same. Helen, however, doesn't notice a difference with either set of runes.
    • 'In the bureau, you uncover a thick hardcover handwritten in the hieroglyphic language. The book is of course unintelligible to you, but Uncle Grubb wrote extensive notes in 'Germanese' in the margins. The phrases, 'Spinozas Nebel' and 'Der Herbststadt' ('The Autumn City') are repeated several times.'
    • It's difficult to tell for sure, but from the way the notes only comment on the hieroglyphics rather than translate them, you get the distinct impression Uncle Grubb was fluent in the hieroglyphic language--which is hardly surprising, since he doubtless invented it.

      However, some of the notes hints at what the hieroglyphics could be about.

      Evidently, the book was written either in or about 'der Herbststadt' ('the Autumn City'). On occasion you come across the Latin phrase, 'Urbs Aeterna Nebula,' or 'City of Eternal Fog.' Or 'Eternal Darkness.' The word, 'Duellona,' pops up enough that you're fairly certain that's the city's name.

      The book probably describes an experiment. Or perhaps only a theory. Whatever it is, it has to do with fog, specifically, 'Spinoza's Fog.' The notes fail to explain what that is. Your missing vital context.

      Some of the notes show Dwarven runes arrayed in a diagrams. The Germanese portions don't quite tell you what they mean, though beneath one diagram you read: 'verpflichten zu der primäran, gespiegelt unaufhörlich' which more or less translates to a cryptic: 'Behold to the primary, mirrored perpetually.' Some of the notes are mathematical nonsense. Others are written in Elvish, in what you're pretty sure is another handwriting.'
    • Partially translated by you (The 'Germanese' parts, anyway)
    • 'In the back [of the closet] sits a large cardboard box filled with books, both paperback and hardcover; all of them are in Elvish. A few seem to be romance novels, judging by their cover art. The Elven books open 'backwards,' like Japanese manga.'
    • [In the closet] 'You also come across a shoebox packed with handwritten letters, some in Germanese, the others in Elvish.'

    Rec Room
    • '. . . a diary, but it's written in Elvish.'
    • The bottom shelf has an encyclopedia set, though infuriatingly it's in Elvish. The first volume, however, does list the publishing information in German: 'Albertine und Ab'haja Bibliothek, Neu Dresden, 446. Jahr der Neuen Erde / 3. Alter, 7:10.' You flip through glossy pages and look at pictures.

      One's a black and white photograph of a portly dwarf in a white button-up smock. His meaty, six-digit hand holds a curved pipe to his cleft-lip mouth as he regards the camera with three beady black eyes. A mirrored visor clings atop his wrinkly gray scalp. Behind him, a mammoth artillery gun lounges on railroad tracks, its long phallic barrel craned erect. Maribel calls the dwarf a, "steampunk space alien." Below, among the text, are schematics for firearms and an image of the 'Happy Dwarf' logo.

      The next few pages show Gothic paintings of an ice age apocalypse. A walled city lies in snowy ruin beneath a charcoal sky. Feral, tumorous Elves toss body parts into a boiling cauldron. Desperate pikemen fight to the last against hordes of . . . werewolves? These pictures are accompanied by confusing maps of either battlefields or mass migrations.

      Eddie looks over your shoulder. "Winter is coming."

      "Yeah," you say, "I think this is their 'Winter Years.' Like our Black Death, except a lot worse."
    • A thick book printed in the hieroglyphic language. Many of its pages display blueprints for what looks like a lantern.
    • In the secretary desk you discover letters bundled in rotted rubber bands. In the first, dated 1966, Uncle Grubb lambastes his son for 'consorting with degenerates.' 'Your mother would not approve,' he writes. He also expresses annoyance at Elfstar stealing the 'Dortmund Stone' and books from his grimoire. 'Though you wound me, I still love you.'

      Elfstar's reply is equally critical. 'You're an imperialist fossil, father. You don't belong in this world, and neither do I. So don't tell me what to do.' He then goes on a ramble about how he will use his power to 'overthrow the old and evil' and usher in a New Age when the 'change' happens. There's some cryptic comments about an upcoming war, but no details. 'Attune your energy to a higher vibration,' he advises. 'Your Prodigal Son, Sloka.'

      There's forty of so letters, the last one dated 1982. You put them away for now.
    • "Uncle Grubb talks about the Witchboard," Helen says. "He used it to 'align' to that other Earth, the 1920's one with psychic elf gangsters."

      "Does he say anything about controlling the Fog?" Eddie asks.

      "I don't know," Helen says. "I haven't read them all. He tells Elfstar it's getting harder to go through the 'portal.' The 'bypass' through 'Troll land' is growing longer, and it's going to get worse because of 'cosmic drift.' He says Aunt Esha would have known how to fix it."

      "When was that letter written?" Eddie asks.

      Helen ruffles through the pages in her lap. "That one, 1979. Elfstar says he wants to leave his Atlantis cult and move to the other Earth. He says ours is going to 'transmigrate' soon, and when it does someone's going to panic and push the red button. And then the Deep Ones will take over what's left. At least the other Earth has a future. He wants to help the Elves there rise up against the humans.

      "Uncle Grubb doesn't like that. He tells Elfstar those Elves aren't 'his people.' They're 'degenerate savages' that his mother's people, the Jaga-whatever, ruled over in their colonies. Uncle Grubb then says some bullshit about skull-shapes and brain pans. And then in the next letter, Elfstar calls him a Nazi."
    • '"Uncle Grubb calls them 'Woodlands' in the letters," Helen says. Her giggle is high, ragged. "It doesn't sound like he liked them, but he liked the Deep Ones even less."'
    • Helen runs her finger down a sheet. "Elfstar had a lot of money on the other Earth, so he bought the land around Black Mesa, New Mexico."

      "The government lab?" Eddie asks. He too is staring out the window.

      "This was 1920," Helen says. "Back then it was just canyons. But Elfstar says it's 'Foggy,' so he wants to use it to make a portal to another world that he hopes will be 'the promised land.' But he's not a World-Jumper, so he's trying to get Uncle Grubb or Mama or Papa to help him. But Uncle Grubb's all like--"
    • 'Their German title reads, 'Zyklopädie der Neuen Welt' ('Cyclopedia of the New World'). They were published in '343. Jahr der Neuen Erde.' From the introduction, it appears the trilogy is intended as a compendium guide for Germans emigrating through the Dortmund Portals (evidently this was written when they were still active). Curiously, New Dortmund is referred to only as a colony. There's mention of the 'Fatherland,' but no 'Jaganma Reich.'

      These books are a century older and not as comprehensive as the Elvish encyclopedia, but at least you can read them.'
    • The entry on 'Elfen' is long and more detailed than you need, so you quickly browse the text.

      Elves are a race of pygmy humans notable for their pointed ears and affinity for magic. They are slight of build and rarely reach five feet in height (though the tallest recorded Elf was a M'refi tribesmen who stood 6'7"). Though they are agile and swift, they lack strength and endurance and thus tire easily under strenuous labor. They possess keen hearing and eyesight. They have slender jaws and lack wisdom teeth. They cannot grow beards.

      Though actual sorcerers are rare among Elves (approximately one in four hundred are born with a 'trait'), all have a vestigial 'Gnostic' ability. This mental communication is usually limited to emergencies and only between close family and friends (or fellow soldiers in the case of Jaganma's Special Airborne). More powerful Gnostics are used to send messages across hundreds of miles, which is why, despite their advanced technology, Jaa'hanan Elves never developed the telegraph.

      Elves are part of panhumanity and therefore can procreate with humans. While such marriages are recognized by the Zoubartic Church, they are outlawed within the German Reich.

      There are two known Elvish 'breeds': the 'arboreal savages' of the Eddland Archipelagos (located across the 'Southern Sea' beyond Africa's tip) and the 'civilized people' of the Jaa'hana continent. You skip the paragraphs on the island natives, though the gist is English colonists have 'significantly culled their numbers.'

      Jaa'hanan Elves are physiologically similar to their Eddland cousins, except their internal anatomy is situs inversus, with the heart on the right side, the liver and gall bladder on the left, etc (bizarrely, this abnormality includes all animals native to the Jaa'hana region). They are also afflicted with an unusually high cancer rate, with as many as one in eight Elves succumbing before their fiftieth year. Doctors theorize this 'blood taint' was brought on by the poisonous ash that fell across the continent during the Winter Years (54 - 49 vor dem Wechsel (A.D. 1453-1458)).
    • You look up, 'herzsteine.' There's a section on the history of heartstones and the laws regarding their use, but you concentrate on what's relevant.

      Heartstones are rare, magical artifacts from the Vendi-Ka continents. They are translucent, red-tinted spheres made of an (almost) indestructible material. Before the war that destroyed their civilization, the Vendi used them as energy sources for their machines as well as instruments for their Elvish sorcerers. Because Vendi technology is still so puzzling, Jaa'hanans today employ only the latter use.

      It's well known that quartz and gemstones can detect and augment sorcery, but with heartstones this effect is amplified a hundredfold. A top-tier Earth Elementalist can collapse a building. With a heartstone, he can flatten city blocks.

      To prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, their access is restricted by international treaty to government militaries and thaumatological institutions. There are four hundred thirty-three known heartstones in the Jaa'hana continent, eighty-one of which are among the Jaganma Kingdom. Three have been loaned to the German Reich in accordance to the Jaga-West Trade Alliance.
    • You look up 'Spinozas Nebel.' Since the Fog is your most immediate obstacle, you read this entry closely.

      Though anomalous fogs have appeared throughout history, it wasn't until after the Change that the phenomena became more prevalent, infesting numerous remote woods, wetlands and other wildernesses. The English scientist Benedict Spinoza (123-186 Neuen Erde (A.D. 1630-1693)) was the first to prove that some fogs are more than mere water vapor. Through his investigations on the Isle of Man, he categorized Fog's otherworldly properties.

      Entering Fog can result in 'reverie,' a state in which one loses sense of the world and relives the past. This symptom grows ever more prominent and repetitious until one is locked in perpetual reminiscing. For many, the relived memories are highly traumatic.

      Stronger Fogs may violate the laws of space and time. Landscapes circle back on themselves as though contained on a small globe. Individuals awake to the same day again and again.

      Time inside Fog may fluctuate, progressing faster or slower. Two famous examples illustrating this effect are those of Spinoza and the Confederate Captain Meero D'Mirsky (180-243 N.E. (A.D. 1687-1750)).

      While taking barometric measurements on Snaefell Mountain, Spinoza became separated from his entourage and disappeared. Three days later he was discovered naked in a nearby village. Wild-eyed and raving, he looked at least a decade older, with new lines on his face and gray in his beard. He claimed to have been abducted by winged 'bat-men' and had spent years in the realm of the Celtic god Nodens. His colleagues assumed the Fog had warped his body and mind, and he spent most of his remaining life in Bedlam Hospital.

      Meero's account is less ambiguous. Despite his reputation for embellishments, it's well documented that the Elvish captain and his crew were missing in the D'yute Fog for twenty-one years, while by their own reckoning (and supported by their unchanged appearance), only nine months had passed.

      There are other, less understood elements associated with Fog, such as lycanthropy, vampirism, fairies and so-called 'fish folk,' but these subjects have their own entries.

      The article's last section deals with Fog's relation to World-Jumping. In the early third century (N.E.), Dwarven runologist, Mulnak zun Aimar (61-338 N.E. (A.D. 1568-1845)) noticed that when certain humans enter 'nebel anfällig' (Fog-prone) areas, Fog will gradually manifest and thicken, generating by their very presence. After years of experimentation, he discovered that these humans bear a previously unknown magic that makes them sensitive to Fog.

      You're no physicist, but the following paragraphs summarize scientific theories that read like retellings of relativity and quantum mechanics mixed with gobbledygook about 'panpsychism' and the 'Platonic realm'. You suspect the author doesn't understand any of this either. However, the brilliant Mulnak used these principals to construct massive, torus-shaped 'Resonance Keys' in the Fog-prone Ardey Hills outside Dortmund.

      With the aid of humans with the magical trait, Mulnak's machines harnessed the Fog and opened a number of 'portals' to a location three million miles 'down the Ring'--a public park in rural Jaganma. On April 2nd, 273 N.E. (A.D. 1780), a small expeditionary force led by the Dwarf made first contact with a group of terrified picnic-goers and a surprisingly cool-headed policeman. No shots were fired, officials on both sides met and history was made.

      The article neglects to detail what happens next (doubtless the intended audience would already know), but it does explain that the portals have for the past seventy years been dutifully maintained by 'Welt-Springen' humans. Mulnak's Resonance Keys were soon made obsolete by the adoption of Jaa'hanan 'Witchboards'--rune-carved, gem-powered tables used to control magical effects or apparatuses. The ones used for portals are fitted with heartstones.
    • . . . you look over the articles on 'feen' and 'fischmenschen.'

      Neither are particularly informative. The overall consensus is that fairies and fish-men are real, but their nature is debatable. For fairies (or spirits in general), the competing theories are that they are 1) entities from another realm, 2) deceased souls or 3) 'thought forms.' Current evidence both supports and contradicts each of these, though the first and second are the most popular.

      Spirits are found in isolated, Fog-prone locales, usually woodlands. Their dispositions run the gamut between congenial tricksters to violent demons. The Zoubartic Church views them with suspicion, though among the polytheistic faiths of the Jaa'hanans, spirits are revered as angels or minor deities.

      As for fish-men, while unseen in modern times (Captain Meero's encounters over a century ago mark their last credible appearance), their sightings are frequent enough throughout history that their existence is undisputed. They are thought to live in aquatic cities, either under the sea or in other-dimensional 'water realms.' They usually interact with panhumanity in remote fishing villages, and their aims involve breeding to create hybrid abominations (though to what end is anyone's guess). Fish men are associated with 'Mother Hydra' and 'Father Dagon,' demonic Jaa'hana deities with illegal cults along rural coastal communities.

    Elfstar's Bedroon
    • There's science fiction books and a box of old Analog magazines, though they're water damaged.

    Attic
    • 'You're certain one is an Elvish-Germanese dictionary broken into seven volumes, and you make a mental note to come back to them later.'
    • A few of the volumes are damaged by falling through the rotted floorboards.
    • Translation: 'An Elvish Odyssey: Captain Meero D'Mirsky's Voyage to the Venda-Ka Wastes'
    • 'The cover art is a ridiculous drawing of a 'balloon ship' that's closer to clockpunk than steampunk.'
    • 'Published in '350. Jahr der Neuen Erde' the book is a German translation of an Elvish captain's account of his extraordinary travels.

      According to the dust jacket, Meero and his crew sailed to D'yute where they were 'lost in time' for decades. Glancing over the table of contents, you note such chapter titles as "In the Caverns of the Triclopses," "The Automatons Attack!" and (most intriguingly) "Escape from the Sea Devil Kingdom."'
    • Translation: The Magic of World Jumping
    • Seems to be a laymen's overview of this 'special human magic.'
    • A significant portion of the text deals with the Ernestine-Wettins, the only World-Jumper family of noble lineage. The publication date is, '330. Jahr der Neuen Erde'
    • Maribel shows you a worn copy of Shubba und Wolff's Illustriertes Deutsche-Jahag Wörterbuch ('Shubba and Wolff's

      Illustrated German-Jahag Dictionary'
      ). It's surprisingly thick, perhaps five hundred pages or so, though at least half of this is in comic book form. Published by the 'Bildungsministerium' ('Ministry of Education'), the dictionary seems intended to teach young Elvish children how to read German.

      "It goes right to left like manga," Maribel explains. "And look, everything's labelled! Like these are fire men--'feuerwehr'. That's German, right? That means the wiggly letters below must must be Elf. And here, they're riding a yellow old-timey fire truck--or 'feuerwagen,' and now they have a hose--a 'schlauch' to spray water--'wasser' . . ."

      Maribel walks you through a few of the short picture stories which offer a child's eye glimpse into this other world. In one, the (mostly human) police find a 'cookie burglar' through the thought-bubble visions of an Elvish detective (called a 'hellseherisch gnostic' in the text). Another comic educates the reader on the Reich's government structure. Apparently humans and Elves have separate Reichstags (Parliaments). Presiding over both is an ancient, white-bearded human sitting regally on a throne. The caption below reads: 'Kaiser Sigivald I.'

      The vocabulary and grammar is elementry level, but for cracking Elvish, this book is a Rosetta stone. You'll take a closer look later.
    • Partially read by Maribel
    • "Look, elf baby books!" Maribel says, handing you a handful of thin hardcovers.

      Most of these have large text and are colorfully illustrated. From the pictures, you can tell some are fairy tales--either that or in the Aesirian Republic roosters wear waistcoats and snakes smoke cigars. A few are clearly intended to teach children how to read, with Elvish 'letters' accompanied by images of various people and objects. These can prove useful, though learning the intricacies of Elvish grammar is just as important as the vocabulary.

      One of the books is readily familiar to you as a 'space book,' much like the ones you used to read as a child. However, lacking planets to describe, the illustrations make do primarily with the ringworld itself and its sun, though there are also a few grainy photographs of asteroids and planetoids. One photo was taken from a high altitude, probably from one of their flying ships. The 'Arc of Heaven' rises straight out of a hazy horizon.

      Later, the book deals with beyond the solar system, with a number of pictures making it clear that the elves know stars are just faraway suns. One picture in particular shows a size comparison between the sun and ringworld and a gargantuan orange ball that could be Betelgeuse, Antares or some other supergiant.'
    • Eddie was flipping through a book about flying warships.
    • '[Maribel] finds a slim hardcover filled with pastel-colorized photographs of what looks like a petting zoo.

      "Look! She's holding a baby rabbit! And he's riding a pony! Aw! Elves are so tiny! They look like Hobbits!"'
    • A stack of hardbacks that you guess are kindergarten-level lesson books.
    • 'Not wanting to stay long, you only briefly peruse the shelves. Most of the books are in either Elvish or Germanese, and seem to vary wildly by subject. Some appear to be text books, others novels.'
    • 'The bookshelves hold hundreds of books, and the few boxes you open contain stacks of old magazines and newspapers.'

    Attic Tower
    • '[You] take from a shelf a thick, ancient tome. After blowing off the dust, you see the

      front cover
      is a richly textured mosaic of a tree in the shape of a woman. Each corner of the image shows a different season.

      Amid the pages of Elvish text you come across paintings of bizarre creatures and mythological events. In one, a seven-eyed pregnant woman floats in void, her legs splayed as she gives birth to a starry river. Another picture shows a humanoid tree with the face of a smiling young girl. Sick and elderly Elves reach desperately to touch her leafy hands, which glow with golden light.'
    • Unread.
    • 'Helen works a small leather notebook from a pocket on her dusty vest. "There's a lot of names in here, though half of them are probably dead by now. On the inside he wrote some digits. They're too long to be a phone numbers. Maybe they're codes."'
    • You search the leather address book. The bulk of its eighty or so pages are penned with names and contact information, while the last twenty comprise of numeric sequences broken by commas and dashes. Skimming the names, you recognize Psychical Phenomena Among the Elves author, Dr. Hereward Carrington, as well as Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla and Edgar Cayce of all people.

      An 'Oskar' (no surname) catches your eye. Whoever he is, his address is in Huckley, his phone number, 'Klondike-6799.' The majority of the other entries have similarly antiquated numbers, but modern, ten-digit listings are sprinkled throughout.

      One page lists oil companies, another, lawyers and investment firms. And Uncle Grubb apparently owned property in the Guadeloupe Mountains, out in West Texas.

      He dedicated three pages to medical research, with a focus on oncology. Many of the doctors are faculty of Harvard, Yale, Miskatonic and other Ivy Leagues. The info for the 'American Institute of Homeopathy' has been angrily scratched out.

      You flip to the coded pages. Are they coordinates? If so, they're not any kind you're familiar with. Combinations?
    • There's a few shelves of old elvish books.

    Garage:
    • 'The vehicle registration lists 'Elfstar Jones' as the owner. It has a San Francisco address and expired in 1999.'

    Created Works:
    • Four reproductions of the runic diagram found in Uncle Grubb's journal. Allows the bearer to see through the Fog, albeit with varying levels of success depending on the individual.
    • Are stronger than the original in the journal.
    • Created by Eddie while holding the heartstone.
    • Offer protection from the Fog dazing effects, though not as strongly for muggles.

    Strange Things

    • The Deep One is not what you expected. He wears a wide-brimmed 'doughboy' World War One helmet and a leathery gas mask with round lenses and a tin can mouth. His padded vest is thick with woven plates and festooned with grenades and ammo pouches. For a heartbeat you think he might be human, but his bare, burly arms are a muddy blue glistening with tiny scales.

      He raises a pump shotgun in his stubby, webbed claws.
    • Even with their helmets, masks and body armor, these Deep Ones are obviously nothing like the rubber-suited monsters from the 'Fish Men' movies. Those were reptile superman with spiky hides and rippling muscles--more akin to alligators than fish or frogs.

      The creatures before you are not so impressive. They are big--taller than you and perhaps twice as heavy. But they're awkwardly proportioned, with an overly stout top-heaviness that reminds you of cartoon strongmen. Their bandy blue legs (half covered by webbed kilts) end with broad, flipper feet that force them to nearly hop as they run. They were much more imposing in the nightmare, but there they were in their natural environment.
    • The Deep Ones are indeed dead. Sprawled among the carnage, the four stout, blue bodies are pulverized. Their body armor is soaked crimson; their limbs are twisted, bones protruding from gore. The creature closest to the basement doorway has had his gas mask and helmet torn away, and gooey sockets gape where egg-size eyes once bulged. His saw-tooth maw droops to the side as if he's in a drugged stupor. A lone fly lands and explores along his gums.

      In your nightmare, these were monsters of primal malice, like piranha in the shape of men. In death, they retain their grostequeness, but are more pitiful than fierce.
    • They're chunky, with pale pot bellies. But beneath the blubber, their ravaged arms bulge with bodybuilder mass. Claws tip their webbed fingers.
    • Known Equipment:
      • WWI-Era 'Brodie' helmets and gas masks
        • Both in good repair.
      • Body armors made of sewn metal plates.
        • The body armors are tunics covered in linked steel squares protecting the front, back and sides of the torso, as well as the abdomen. The design is similar to the early bulletproof vests of WWI, though these are customized for the Deep Ones' rotund builds. One set bears two pockmarks where Helen's shots failed to penetrate.
      • Tear gas grenades
      • Frag or Concussion grenades.
      • Grenades shaped like black balls.
      • Winchester 1897 pump shotguns
        • They were carrying silver shotgun slugs.
      • Tranquilizer pistols
        • The revolvers are an odd pepperbox design with a protracted cylinder and practically no barrel. They're loaded with long, narrow cartridges tipped with what are probably tranquilizers. On a whim, Helen aims, shoots. The gun spits air; a red-feathered dart sprouts from a wall.
      • Stun batons
        • The 'cattle-prods' are sturdy wooden batons about two feet long. A pair of prongs protrude from the end of each. You press the button in a baton's handle, and its prongs spark with electricity. Eddie stabs a Deep One's ruined face, and the body twitches as much as its crippled limbs allow.
      • Knives
        • By their peculiar squid-shape, the knives are clearly Deep Ones in origin. The squid bodies are the hilts, with sapphire eyes at the guards; tentacles trail the length of the ten inch blades. Their maroon alloy is lightweight and holds a keen edge--though one far inferior to the supernatural sharpness of Aunt Esha's saber. Roberta shoves one of the sheathed weapons through her belt.
      • Pendants
        • Against their scaly chests, they wear metal pendants of a six-eyed octopus.
      • Throw nets
        • The folded nets are made of silk and woven with scores of fishhooks. Spreading a net until it's as wide as a bedsheet, you shudder as you imagine the Deep Ones ensnaring you in this vicious web and then tazing you into submission.
      • The Deep Ones have small packs strapped to their back waists. Each is filled with extra shells, a bundle of cord, a first aid kit, and several foil-wrapped bars of a briny, offal-reeking meat-substance.
    You're in a dim and muddled world. A great watery space opens before you, and in a stupor you wander through titanic sunkenporticos and labyrinths of weedy cyclopean walls with grotesque fishes as your companions. Then the other creatures appear, rough-hewn beings bearingthe shape of men but with the unhuman trappings. They circle you and regard you with bulbous eyes. They probe at you with scaly hands, jab at you with bony spears. Their saw-toothed maws form terrible grins.

    Something draws you, and you look above. In the dark, undersea sky, distant fireflies swarm like a cosmos run amok. They do not share a world with the undersea creatures, though you don't know why you know this. The creatures grab at you, but you rise up and--
    • Everyone had the same dream, though for Maribel and Eddie it was more intense.
    "Tell me what happened, Goosie," you say.

    Her hands flutter as she speaks. "We were doing the Ouija board thing. Our hands were on the plastic pointer, and Maribel was asking if anyone was there. And then it began to move. At first I thought it was Maribel or it was us pushing it around without knowing it. You know, doing it subconsciously. But then it began to move harder, faster. And then we took our hands off, and it was still moving. Nothing was touching it! It was just jerking and wiggling on the board as if some invisible hand had a hold of it. It couldn't be real. It had to be a trick!"

    "I keep telling you: it wasn't me. It was a ghost," Maribel says.

    "No," you say, and then you pause for a moment as you try to think fast. "Let's be reasonable here. The power of suggestion can be overwhelming sometimes . . ."

    Maribel gives an exasperated sigh. "We didn't imagine it. Here, let me go get the tape recorder. I bet twenty dollars the ghost said something. I felt it."

    Maribel disappears into the great hall and quickly returns with a clunky eighties-era tape recorder that your parents kept in an old closet. Your little sister presses rewind, and after the audio whir ends in a click, she holds the recorder up and presses play.

    Through the tinny speaker, the generator is a steady background purr over which Maribel's voice speaks.

    "--so I can ask them some questions. Okay, um . . . Are there . . . um . . . any spirits out there? If so, please say something . . ."

    "This is stupid,"
    says Helen.

    "Shh! Let them talk!"

    And then the background purr slows and deepens as if plunged underwater. A garbled static emerges, and your breath catches in your throat as you hear a bass, warbling voice that's part whale song, part malevolent frog.

    "Hafh'dm hai ilyaa ch' shugg ron s'uhn tharanak throd shagg y'hah . . ."'
    Eddie stands beside you. "Look up," he says.

    Across the white sky above, barely perceivable through the fog, you make out a swirling sea of yellow pinpricks that jerk and dart and orbit each other playfully. Fireflies? It's surreal. You've never seen so many of them: thousands, millions. Innumerable as the stars. But then the deja vu crashes like a wave, and the dream's memory returns to you: the seabottom ruins, the creatures, the fireflies . . .

    It was a dream. But now you're awake. And yet there the fireflies are. The unreality of it all threatens to overtake you. Your heart races; your throat grows parched. You stumble back.
    • So far, they've done nothing.
    • The fireflies are currently gone.
    • Started in the woods behind the house.
    • It was too warm for fog.
    • Maribel and Helen walked a little into the Fog. Maribel thought it was pretty, but Helen made them turn back.
    • 'In the woods beyond you can just make out the white gauzy blur of the fog your sisters saw.

      Helen stands beside you. "It looks a little closer now," she says.

      You frown. The fog seems to glow, though it's probably just a trick of the twilight. "The lake's not out there, is it?" you ask.

      Helen gestures behind her. "No, it's that way, near the road. So, I don't know what's causing it."'
    • With your own flashlight in hand, you follow your sisters outside. A warm, wet, earthy smell hits you as you step through the doorway into the night air. Helen and Maribel stand on the porch's stone steps.

      Helen's frantic flashlight cuts only a short, fat swath through the darkness, the yellow beam clouding against a fog that seems to thicken farther away from the house. The SUV and trailer are but dark, ghostly shapes in the yard.

      "The fog," Helen says quietly. "It sneaked up on us . . ."
    • In the blurred morning ambiance, the fog has taken a milky hue. As last night, it seems to thicken farther from the house, and you can make out the vague shape of the SUV and trailer forty feet away before the world vanishes into cloudy haze.
    • Those in the Fog are prone to slipping into a daze. You and Helen had a flashback/daydream of the time when you swam in the lake. (See: Lake)
      • '"Wha . . . ?" She wobbles on her feet as if shoved. "Wh . . . what happened?"

        Eddie steadies her. "You tell me. You two got quiet while you were carrying all that stuff, and then it was like you were both sleepwalking. We shouted

        at you, but you both were just shambling around like you were on Dramamine. We had to herd you inside."'
      • Touching an Anti-Fog rune diagram offers protection, but not so much for 'muggles.'
      • The hearstone seems to be able to snap people out of the daze.
      • So far, Eddie and Maribel seem to immune, or at least resistant.
      • Flashbacks cause dry mouth.
      • Flashbacks
        • Flashback of the Lake (Christmas 2008, Chapter 10) (See: Lake)
        • Flashback of the Oak Tree (Christmas 2002, Chapter 11)
          • "I wonder if the flashback was sent by the fairies," Maribel says. "Did you see any clues?"

            "Like the rune from the lake?" you ask. "I don't remember anything like that."

            But Helen frowns. "No, not during the flashback. But when we were in the tree there was a fog in the woods past the fence, and we thought we heard wolves. It freaked us out."

            The rejuvenated memory comes to you readily, and you recall the ghostly vapor slinking between the trees. Later, Uncle Grubb dismissed the howling as wind, but the air had been still.
    • Seems to block radio signals.
    • The mansion seems to be immune.
    • The sun is moving faster across the sky.
    • From what you read in the Zyklopädie, the Fog seems to be responding to Eddie's presence.
    • The Fog is currently gone.
    • After the Fog:
      Roberta steps out with a boyish grin and slaps the hood. "She was right where I left her. It's good I drove as far into the Fog as I did, because the 'border' was just a stone's throw behind her."

      Helen climbs from the SUV. "It's this line of glassy, sandy stuff, like the ground's been shot with a laser. Trees were cut in half too, top to bottom. Whatever moved us must have scooped out the land around the mansion and swapped it with here."

      "Classic Eye-Sot," Eddie mutters.

      "We're in the same 'place,' though," Roberta says. "The highway's still there, but it's not our highway. The concrete's a lighter shade, and it's cracked and weedy."
    • Eddie
      • Eddie with the Heartstone
        • The warm surface touches his palm. His eyes widen, and it happens. Color drains from the room; the floor-lamps gutter. The stone darkens and shines like the brilliant halo of an eclipsed sun. Eddie's face is lunar pale.

          His black t-shirt and jeans are clothes-shaped voids.

          There's an unseen disjunction, and it jerks the world like a nicked wire sliding across a razor edge. An abyss gapes in your mind. You shiver with cold as the light slowly returns.

          The ball has fallen from your brother's grasp. He sits on the stool, chewing his lip rings. Trembling, he stares at you with madman eyes, the whites visible all around his ice-blue pupils.

          "Eddie . . . " you say.

          "Burt . . . I . . . I'm a wizard."

          You breathe a nervous snicker. "You're telling me!"

          He rocks in place. His teeth chatter. "I could see forever, Burt! I . . . I touched existence! There's something behind the curtain. Something beautiful. Something terrible. I . . . I just don't remember what it was."
        • "It's weird. When I hold it, it's like a part of me. I can even see through it!" He shuts his eyes and then covers his face with an arm. "Test me."

          You hold two fingers to the stone.

          Eddie giggles. "Peace, man!"

          You raise your middle finger.

          "You're flipping me the bird."

          Your brother's seeing through a magic gem. The sorcery's sheer blatantness gives you vertigo. "Very weird," you agree.
        • "Let me see the stone, Burt."

          Helen and Maribel look up from their books as you pull the heartstone from your pocket and, with some trepidation, pass it to your brother. His face tightens under the abrupt red glow which paradoxically seems to drain light from the study. He holds the stone in his right hand while he draws with his left.

          At first, Eddie moves with the laid-back precision that typifies his artistry. But, gradually, he quickens, and his pencil scratches with inhuman haste, each angular symbol and octagonal pattern manifesting unerringly on the paper as though he's sketched the diagram a thousand times. By the stone's dull radiance you see his pale features are slack, his blue pupils dilated. He stares into nothing, not even glancing at the open journal beside him. You exchange concerned looks with Helen and Maribel. This is 'Stoned Eddie,' a familiar sight.

          Without breaking pace, he completes the first copy, rips the sheet from the notebook and starts on the second.

          You lay a hand on his shoulder. "Eddie . . . ?"

          He nods quickly, shoos you away. You step back, unsure what to do.

          By the time he finishes the fourth diagram, sweat beads his forehead and cheeks. He plants the stone on the stack of copies, and as soon as he pulls his hand away, the gloomy glow ceases. Closing his eyes, he slumps back in the leather chair. His breaths come heavy. You wonder if he's passed out.

          Maribel steps forward and pokes him in the arm. "Are you okay, Eddie?"

          "I saw . . ." he rasps. "I saw . . . I saw . . ."

          "You saw what?" Helen asks.

          "I saw . . . the abyss. I was me, but I was more than me. I was others. And I understood. There's gears under the world. There's eyes behind the stars. I . . . I don't remember the truth, but it was intense."
      • Eddie's Powers
        • Can effectively reproduce the Anti-Fog runes.
          • Doing so exhausts him.
        • '"It's weird, but I feel like I know these already," Eddie says, "like they've always been inside me."

          "Genetic memory?" you suggest.

          "I don't know. The runes, they call to me, but it's not like remembering. Their meanings are just . . . self-evident, like they're beyond language.'
    • Maribel
      • Maribel with the Heartstone
        • Helen sighs and lets Maribel snatch it from her palm--

          A gale wind blasts you in the face. You stumble backwards into the computer desk. A pale blue aura pulses from the heartstone cupped in Maribel's hands.

          Her dark eyes shimmer, and her kinky hair sways like serpents. She grins ecstatically. Is she growing taller? No, you look down and see her little sneakers levitating inches above the floorboards.

          Dust and drywall particles gather around her and swirls into a miniature whirlwind. From their shelves, books jiggle free and bob in the air like half-filled helium balloons. The broom rises erect and spins on its axis.

          Your heart pounds. A seashell roar fills your ears. Eddie stands beside you and watches your floating sister in wonder. Helen is backed against the wall, her eyes wide in disbelief.

          "I'm a wizard!" Maribel cries with glee as she kicks her feet. With two fists she thrusts the heartstone above her head where it shines like a cyan star. "I'M A WIZAAAAAAARD!"
        • Maribel levitates in the swirling haze. She holds the heartstone above her head where its pale blue light casts a nebula glow on the dusty streams sweeping around her.

          "I'm flying, Pookie! I'm flying!" Her joyous laughter echos in the wind.

          You open your mouth, but words stick in your throat. You step forward but stumble, and you feel a sudden, sickening buoyancy as though the whole house is plunging from a great height.

          Helen screams. She's drifting upwards, her arms flapping, her legs kicking for the floor inching away. Beside her floats the computer desk. A wayward smack of her foot sends it somersaulting past you.

          Hands grip your arm and shoulder, and you turn to find Eddie clinging to you as he rises. You pull him back down, but that only bobs you up in his place. Your stomach flutters. Beside you, a massive bookcase creaks menacingly.

          "Maribel! Stop this!" you shout. "Someone's going to get hurt!"

          For the first time, Maribel seems to notice the chaos around her, and her glee turns pensive. She lowers the heartstone, and the brightness wanes. The whirlwind disperses. She settles back to the library floor.
      • Maribel's Powers
        • She points at a bare spot on the desk. At first, you see nothing, but then specks of dust rise and dance gracefully around each other until they form a tiny, wispy tornado.

          Maribel watches with uncharacteristic intensity. Finally, she huffs a breath and the miniature storm fades away. "That's all I can do!"
        • 'Helen giggles, and you both turn to see her holding out her hand while a dust devil the size of a Dixie cup sashays in her palm. Maribel's eyes are fixed with concentration as she works her magic.'
        • 'She's crouched and shining her flashlight on the floor, her face set in a brooding scowl. As you watch, a swirling, dinner plate-sized whirlwind gradually materializes and rises to ankle-height. The tiny storm sweeps slowly across the floorboards, churning dust and billowing it across the room.'
        • 'A bookmark of a kitten in a wizard hat falls out. Maribel wiggles her fingers at it, and the bookmark flutters before standing on its end and spinning slowly in place.'
        • Can reproduce the Anti-Fog runes, but not as effectively as Eddie.
        • Her powers may manifest without her knowledge: ' You're not sure if she's aware, but a baby dust devil sashays figure-eights between her sneakers.'
        • '"I bet I can explode things too if I practice enough." Maribel aims an open palm at a second chair. Its dusty white cover flaps as if in a gentle breeze.

          "You have some leveling to do," Eddie says.'
        • Helen groans. "I'll go down first."

          "I don't think that's a good idea," you say.

          "I'll be fine. I could really use a gas mask, though."

          "I mean it could be dangerous," you say. "With all that concentrated fungi, there's probably mycotoxins in the air."

          "I have some incense in my backpack," Helen says.

          "That . . . wouldn't help."

          "What if we wrap rags around our mouths?" Eddie asks.

          "Let me try something," Maribel says. Standing by the rectangle, she raises her arms, wiggles her fingers and says, "Stinkious Be-Goneius!"

          Warm air breezes from the square window behind you and tugs at your shirt and jeans as it flows through the opening at your feet. Below, the bedroom's dust stirs and sparkles under the flashlight beams as it shapes into a horizontal funnel, like a miniature tornado on its side. It swirls over the breach in the wall.

          She's ventilating the room, blowing in new air while jettisoning the old. After about half a minute, the downdraft dies away.

          Helen lowers her head through the hole a takes a sniff. "It's not fresh baked cookies, but at least I'm not going to vomit." She hugs Maribel.

          "You are the cutest little air freshener ever!"

          "That was very impressive," you say, ruffling her hair.

          "It's cool having an aeromancer in the family," Eddie says.

          Maribel beams, her chin held high. A wispy whirlwind sways her hair like a sea anemone. "'Aeromancer' . . . I like that!"
        • Is able to blow back a grenade.
          • A meaty arm flings something from the doorway. The grenade arcs towards you. It isn't a gray cylinder like before. It's green and shaped like a pineapple. You open your mouth to--

            A shockwave claps you from behind, knocking you forward. The grenade reverses back towards the stairs. You and Helen hunch deep into the alcove.
        • Touching two heartstones, Maribel is able to destroy the Deep ones, but the act burns her hands.
    • 'An electronic gargling plays through the great hall. Your sisters are hunched over the radio, and as Helen tunes the receiver, the noise oscillates between highs and lows, sounding too much like moaning.'
    • ' At least this time there's no demonic voices.'
    • Time seems to be accelerated outside the house.
    • The sun's moving faster, with a day passing in a few hours.
    • Eddie is bent through a square window, his torso out in the Fog.

      "Time?" he calls back.

      Helen glances from her sword to her smartphone on the floor beside her. "Forty-two seconds. You?"

      "Same." Eddie pulls back inside, his own phone in hand. "I guess my arm's not long enough."

      "What are you doing?" you ask.

      "Running an experiment," Eddie says. "If the Fog's causing the time dilation, then maybe the deeper you go, the faster time moves."

      "Like clocks falling into black holes or something," Helen says. "I saw that in a Youtube video."
    • In the study, Eddie opens his laptop. He checks his phone.

      "My phone's one minute ahead. They had the same time before."

      Maribel turns on her tablet and compares it to her phone. "Mine's a minute fast too."

      "We were outside for how long, ten, fifteen minutes?" Eddie asks. "That's like a ten percent increase."
    • The time dilation seemed be only a few days.
      • "But what are you doing here?" Helen asks. "I mean, why did you come?"

        Roberta arches her eyebrows. "Why did I come? You were supposed to be back Sunday night. It's . . . Wednesday? Thursday? I don't know. I was in that fucking fog at least a day."

        You and Eddie share a glance. It's supposed to be Saturday. Well, at least the time dilation was only a few days.

    Known Worlds

    An Earth that was transmigrated to the Ringworld in A.D. 1507.
    • After the event, 'Dwarves' and 'Trolls' were found to live beneath certain mountain ranges.
      • The Dwarves traded runic weapons and armor with the humans.
      • The Trolls spread death and chaos.
      • As of 1767 (260th Year of the New Earth), history is drastically different from your own Earth's history.
        • Protestantism evidently never took off. Catholicism's main rival is a 'Zoubartic' sect of Christianity which embraces magic.
        • France has been embroiled in crippling succession wars.
        • Spain and Portugal are suffering a renewed Moorish invasion.
        • It seems only England has a foothold in the Americas.
        • There are 'Elf Lands across the Southern Sea.'
          • The 'Eddland Archipelagos '
        • 1780: The Dortmund Portals are made. First contact with Jaa'hana Elves.
    • See Books:
      • Die Welt der Zwerge und Trolle by Doctor Jochen Ritter von Senckenberg (Written in 1767)
      • Klostermanns Theoretisch Runelogie
      • Zyklopädie der Neuen Welt
    An Earth that transmigrated to the Ringworld in A.D. 1901
    • Earth's (now flat) continents are surrounded by lands populated by a pygmy race with pointed ears. They are dubbed 'Elves.'
      • A few have psychic powers.
      • Most of these Elvish civilizations are primitive and are quickly exploited.
        • An exception is the Aesiran Republic, discovered in 1913. Not only do they possess nineteenth century-level technology, but anti-gravity (in the form of Cavorite) as well.
    • Many Elves immigrate to Earth countries (particularly the United States). Many are used for cheap labor, though some turn to a life of crime.
    • History is radically different:
      • 1901: As in your time line, President McKinley is shot, but here the assassin was a 'robed cultist.' Teddy Roosevelt is sworn in.
      • 1901-1932: The British Empire, the United States and Germany experience a new age of colonialism and exploration. Hundreds of thousands of Elves immigrate.
      • 1910: After serving two terms, Roosevelt sails with the Great White Fleet to the US's colonies in the Elvish lands.
      • 1913: During a safari, Roosevelt's camp is overrun by 'Morlocks' (i.e. Trolls). His body is never found.
      • 1913: The Great White Fleet encounters the Aesiran Republic. Though peaceful (if arrogant), the Republic's fleets of flying warships worry the Earth nations, setting off a frantic search for 'Cavorite.'
      • The First World War never happens.
      • 1932: After years of tension, the Aesirian Republic bombs the British colonies of New Bristol and Avon.
      • 194X: The war is over. The United States seems to have been devastated by biological war. 'Puspox' has been mentioned, and Dallas is been contaminated by Anthrax. Confederate gunboats are patrolling the ruins.
    • See Books:
      • On God's Ring: The Great Transmigration and the New Age of Colonialism by Charles A. Beard (Published in 1931)
      • Psychical Phenomena Among the Elves by Hereward Carrington (Published 1924)
      • The Lost Treasure of Min'Karanda by Sir Author Conan Doyle
      • The newspaper
      • Encyclopedia Britannica, 13th Edition (Published 1926)
      • The crumpled up newspaper (Dated, July 13th, 1932)
    A predominately Elvish region that includes the Jaganma Reich (Later the Aesirian Republic) as well as the Confederation of Swan Kingdoms.
    • The Jaganma Reich was founded by Germans from 'Earth-1507.'
    • The Germans made first contact with the Jaa'hanan Elves in 1780, after Mulnak created the Dortmund Portals.
    • The region is three million miles 'down the Ring' from Earth-1507.
    • The Germans seem to be cut off from their 'Fatherland,' and have been so for decades.
    • Their Jaganma leader was 'Sarvesara-Kaiser Sigivald I'
    • 19th century tech level, augmented with runic magic and 'Cavorite.'
    • The Dwarven Eirohm Company was one of the Reich's biggest weapons manufacturers.
    • Elves outnumbered humans.
    • Some of the humans are descendants of the Vendi-Ka.
    • There are a few Dwarves. They manufacture weapons.
    • Humans and Elves had seperate Reichstags (Parliaments)
    • Uncle Grubb's Journal begins on the '451st Year of the New Earth,' which makes it the year A. D. 1958 under Earth-1507's calendar.
    • There was a revolt, and the Reich became the 'Aesirian Republic,' a communist state ruled by ____.
    • Five hundred years ago (A.D. 1453 / -54 N.E.) : The Vendi-Ka destroyed themselves in a war. Poisonous ash crossed the ocean and fell upon the Jaa'hana Region. Sickness spread, crops withered. The Winter Years followed, and three out of four Elves perished.
      • Refugees from the Vendi-Ka arrived, bringing technological knowledge.
    • Elvish text is, 'slanted, calligraphic.'
    • Jaa'hanan Elves
      • are situs inversus.
      • have an unusually high cancer rating, killing one in eight before the age of fifty.
    • See Books:
      • The Elvish-Germanese Dictionary
      • Ein Elfen Odyssee: Kapitän Meero D'Mirsky die Reise in die Venda-Ka Wüste
      • The Elvish religious text
      • Die Magie der Welt-Springen
      • Shubba und Wolff's Illustriertes Deutsche-Jahag Wörterbuch
      • Uncle Grubb's Journal
      • Zyklopädie der Neuen Welt
      • Anything in Elvish
    A highly advanced civilization destroyed in a cataclysmic war five hundred years ago.
    • Located 'Far Left Spinward' to the Jaganma Reich.
    • Composed of nine continents.
    • Frequently explored for artifacts.
    • Vendi-Ka humans are 'coal-skinned.'
    • 'D'yute' (Known to the Germans as 'Duellona' or 'The Autumn City'): The Vendi-Ka's last intact city. It's shrouded in a anomalous fog which distorts space and time. Entering is dangerous, though the rewards are great.
      • Trolls and Deep Ones have reportedly been seen there.
    • See Books:
      • Uncle Grubb's Journal
      • Anything in Elvish?
      • Anything in Hieroglyphics?
    • The cloudless sky's indigo suggests early evening, which is strange because the sun is directly overhead . . . That's when you see it. The thin, ghostly, segmented line rises from far behind the trees and arcs up through the sun, where it continues on its path to the opposite horizon. It's a dotted line, bisecting the sky.
    • Outside, the sky is rich violet, the overhead sun half-eclipsed by some shade megastructure orbiting high above. Stars twinkle in the twilight, and you scan in vain for familiar constellations.
    • Crisp wind bites you. The woods are onyx ridges under a starry sea. Flickers wink through the leafy canopy, but even with the telescope you see nothing in the gloom. Farther away, dim pinpricks hug the horizon like sunken stars. Are they campfires?

      Eddie motions behind you. "Look at those lights."

      You open the rear window and hold the telescope as though it's a spyglass. A faint cluster nestles along the northwest horizon. You fiddle with the focuser; blurs sharpen to minuscule rectangles, to squat, brick buildings. Faraway traffic lights creep along unseen streets.

      "It's Wichita Falls, isn't it?" Eddie asks.

      "Not if the house is in the same place it was before," you say. "Wichita Falls is what, thirty miles away? We're not high enough to see that far."

      "The world's flat, Burt. There's no curvature, no 'behind the horizon.' If we were on Mount Everest, we could see every corner of the Earth."

      "Weird." You pass him the telescope.
    • According to On God's Ring:
      • The ringworld's surface area is three million Earths.
      • The population might be in the quadrillions.

     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2017 at 11:48 PM
    • Like Like x 5
    • Hugs Hugs x 1
    • [College major]: Engineering
    • [Mental skill]: Computers
    • [Mental Skill]: Electronic repair (?)
    • [Mental Skill]: First Aid
    • [Mental Skill]: Latin
    • [Physical Skill]: Wrestling (to escape from zombies/vampires)

    [X] Explore first floor
     
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Our twin sister is hot.

    ... I'm sorry, but someone had to say it.


    [College major] - Medicine
    [Mental Skill] - History
    [Mental Skill] - Languages (Latin)
    [Mental Skill] - Literature
    [Mental Skill] - First Aid
    [Physical Skill] - Fencing

    [X] The study's not going anywhere. Explore the house with your family. But where should you explore first? The first floor? Or upstairs? You've never been up there. How about the basement?
    -[X] The First Floor.

    Medicine is interesting and synergises well with being trained in First Aid. History is important because it might allow us some insight in weird local shit or old photographs, letters, books, etc we find. Latin for the same reason as the previous. I presume we're fairly likely to be a reader if we're not generally much for physical activity. Fencing because it's a good nerdish activity that doesn't seem as unlikely as a more active team sport might, and also because it fits fairly well with the interest we have in old things (History, a dead language).
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2015
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Memorial

    Memorial Bow to the Glory of Original Chibi.

    [College major] - Medicine
    [Mental Skill] - History
    [Mental Skill] - Languages (Latin)
    [Mental Skill] - Literature
    [Mental Skill] - First Aid
    [Physical Skill] - Martial Art: Muay Thai
    [X] Stay in the study and dig through Uncle Grubb's stuff. Tell Helen, Eddie and Maribel to stick together.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2015
    • Like Like x 1
  7. I don't really see how that's a physical skill.

    It seems more like a trait, rather than a skill, also.
     
  8. Forgive the double-post, but I'm going to do the same as @Memorial and swap my Physical Skill vote to:

    [Physical Skill] - Muay Thai

    It seems to me a little like the kind of thing we might have been dragged into by Helen when she wanted to take it up, which fits with the written description of how we'd "dabbled" in it. And it's nice to have a skill/hobby in common with another sibling for characterisation purposes.
     
    • Hugs Hugs x 2
  9. I can't get past the ridiculous sunglasses.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  10. elarasilk

    elarasilk Odd Creature

    Ooh, this looks interesting.

    Skills first: absolutely necessary skill is:
    [Mental Skill] First Aid
    Also first aid is exactly what a square would learn :p Moving on, something tells me we might end up getting out in kayaks or on dirt bikes, or even on foot, so:
    [Mental Skill] Orienteering/Wilderness Navigation.
    This might also come in handy for mapping the house and finding anything that's e.g. out in the graveyard, hidden out in the woods etc.
    Next I agree with some of the above posters:
    [Mental Skill] History
    Is the way forwards. Backwards. Whatever. Very useful skill, anyway.
    Finally, for mental skills, as interesting as Languages might be, I think we'd actually do better with:
    [Mental Skill] Biology
    Because apes with three eyes, okay?
    Right, having put that little lot together, time to cycle back around and consider major. Engineering strikes me as the most likely to be directly useful, Languages would bring that skill back in kinda by default, but put together first aid skills and an interest in biology, and the most fitting with the character seems to be:
    [College major] Medicine
    Right? And that should have its own uses, even if it's not quite as adaptable as Engineering.
    And finally, what kind of physical skill fits? Well, it's relatively rare, but seems appropriately nerdy and historical, and might come in handy...
    [Physical skill] Longsword
    Obviously Pookie's not an expert, he only started it when he got to college, but he knows his way around a blade.
     
    • Insightful Insightful x 1
  11. [X] Stay in the study and dig through Uncle Grubb's stuff. Tell Helen, Eddie and Maribel to stick together.
    -[X] Look for extra keys, see if Uncle was planning on selling the house.

    [X] [College major] Medicine
    [X] [Mental Skill] Experimental Archaeology
    [X] [Mental Skill] Languages (Latin)
    [X] [Mental Skill] Psychology
    [X] [Mental Skill] Literature
    [X] [Physical Skill] Parkour

    Also a lesbian...possibly specifically to head off waifuism.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  12. That, and I just like writing lesbian characters.

    Vote results
    (Note: SB & SV votes combined)

    Hebert's Skills

    College Major
    [1] Engineering
    [5] Medicine

    Mental Skills (Pick Four)

    [1] Biology
    [1] Computers
    [1] Debate
    [2] Electrical Engineering
    [1] Experimental Archaeology
    [1] Film Special Effects
    [4] First Aid
    [3] History
    [1] Homeopathy
    [4] Languages (Latin)
    [3] Literature
    [1] Orienteering/Winderness Navigation
    [1] Psychology

    Physical Skill

    [1] Longsword
    [2] Muay Thai
    [1] Parkour
    [1] Scouting
    [1] Wrestling

    Winners: Medicine, First Aid, History, Latin, Literature and Muay Thai

    Herbert's Character Sheet

    Your twin raises an eyebrow, awaiting your answer.

    [3] Stay in the study and dig through Uncle Grubb's stuff. Tell Helen, Eddie and Maribel to stick together.
    -[X]They can help, too. Look specifically for diaries, records, floor plans, etc.
    -[X] Look for extra keys, see if Uncle was planning on selling the house.

    [3] The study's not going anywhere. Explore the house with your family. But where should you explore first? The first floor? Or upstairs? You've never been up there. How about the basement?
    -[2] The First Floor.
    -[1] Basements are cool.

    Result: Tie.

    Anyone else want to break the tie? Should Hebert stay in the study or explore the house with his family?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Eh, Explore with the fam.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  14. Homeopathy? :mob:

    And given that there's only one dissenting vote for college major, and that one doesn't list Homeopathy as a skill/interest, that means that someone, somewhere, decided to vote for a character who was studying modern Medicine and still thought bowls of water have medicinal powers.

    Anyway, yay at the results. I got every single subvote I chose.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  15. elarasilk

    elarasilk Odd Creature

    I wasn't sure, and Ridiculously Average Guy got in first, so I'll second exploring with the family.
     
  16. Memorial

    Memorial Bow to the Glory of Original Chibi.

    Sweet, Herbert know how to use Muay Thai. If anyone, well if it is physical, tried to tangle with Herbert, they will face a world of pain or a least find him hard to take out.
     
  17. He only has one rank in it, so I doubt it's like he's an action hero.

    Helen's apparently the real bruiser of the family.
     
    • Informative Informative x 2
    • Like Like x 1
  18. Memorial

    Memorial Bow to the Glory of Original Chibi.

    A least, Herbert is not completely defenseless like other horror movie's protagonist.
     
  19. shademaster

    shademaster

    Location:
    Israel
    hmm is our little sister adopted or something?
     

  20. Yes, it says so.
     
  21. Piell

    Piell

    Location:
    USA
    [X] The study's not going anywhere. Explore the house with your family. But where should you explore first? The first floor? Or upstairs? You've never been up there. How about the basement?
    -[X] The First Floor.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Funny Funny x 1
  22. Wasn't me, but Homeopathy makes sense in a mystical setting. Which this may be.
     
  23. shademaster

    shademaster

    Location:
    Israel
    [X] Stay in the study and dig through Uncle Grubb's stuff. Tell Helen, Eddie and Maribel to stick together.
     
  24. It's the aggravating little brother that's defenseless - joy.
     
    • Insightful Insightful x 2
    • Funny Funny x 1
JMHthe3rd Internal Ad System Quest