November 17th, 2060
Lac Assal, Djibouti 0200 hours, operational area local time
"This is a bad idea, Machine." Creep's voice whispered over my earpiece. "Those ghouls are coming, and if you're still gone when they get here, we'll be down a man."
Jazz interrupted in a hushed tone, "Agreed. We've got poor position. This lake sits in a basin and we're widely exposed even on ground level, not to mention drones by air or mortar fire. They get serious, we die."
"Got any better ideas?" I whispered into my mic. "If you do, I'm game."
Neither of them spoke up.
"Okay, then. Creep, keep an eye on my body. If I die, incinerate my corpse. I don't want those fraggers eating me." I lay down on the shore, next to the saltiest lake in the world, closed my eyes and slipped from my body.
Lac Assal is the lowest elevation in all of Africa. The area around the lake is beautiful and holds black lava fields, dormant volcanoes, lava tubes, and vast 'beaches' of salt that have been exposed from years of evaporation. The lake is always warm as it is fed by active hot springs. The water is so salty that you can't drink it without running the risk of poisoning yourself. Under the clear night sky the astral space was alive with mana energy. The elements of nature combine in a unique way here, as fire and earth heat water that touches a parched sky.
The desert surrounding Lac Assal is vast. Before the awakening it was dangerous for the careless wanderer due to the heat, lack of water, and the occasional bandit gang. With the return of magic the desert came alive with strange creatures not known to exist anywhere else. Fire elemental spirits sometimes rage along the old lava fields. Wind spirits dance dervishes into existence in the desert. Water spirits erupt from the lake as if trying to touch the sky itself. The ground shakes as thermal stresses and the rumblings of earth spirits create earthquakes. Amid all the spirits and awakened creatures, all around me, nature was alight with raw elemental energy and hummed with power. Currents of light moved through waters that were devoid of life, spun over parched salt beaches, erupted into the sky and plunged into the quivering Earth. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
I looked around at the faint auras of the team. Jazz carried a lot of high-end cyberware that had weakened his aura considerably. He was calm and resolved. I saw similar traits in auras of the rest of the team, except for Creep. His aura was devoid of emotion, and simply radiated magical power. There were strange flickers in his aura, as if dark thoughts were dancing in his mind and coloring his soul. Maybe he didn't have emotions at all, some psychopaths are like that.
I turned my attention to the east, where the ghoul forces we had been fighting were likely getting ready to attack our position. "Girls, come here please." My thoughts stretched out across the vast distance of space, through the metaplanes and reached the ears of my ally spirits, my eldest daughters. I felt them respond through the connection I hold to them which touches my very soul.
"We are coming," their thought-voices reached me in an instant.
Lily and Rose appeared at my side moments later. Two bright angels, wings and all, stood to either side of me. Rose, my first ally spirit and my eldest daughter, stood at my right hand. Lily, my second ally spirit daughter, was ready at my left. "Glad you're here girls." I told them. I reached out and took their hands in mine. "There is a large force of ghouls closing on my position. I must ask for your help to fight them."
"I will do violence." Rose's thought voice carried a certitude to it. She was calm and ready for action.
"I will fight by your side, father." Lily's thought-voice carried a ring of steel. She had been exposed to horrific enemies in her short time on Earth and I fear it had hardened her.
I squeezed their hands, our astral forms shining across the brilliant landscape. "Thank you, girls. Here's what we're going to do.."
0230 hours, operational area local time
Astral space was brilliant over the desert. Below us, two hundred ghouls crept along toward Lac Assal. They were fanned out in squads of five, each ten meters or more from any other squad, and stretched for five hundred meters across the pristine landscape. Their aura's were dark red, like old blood, and their souls were weakened from essence hunger. They must have been ravenous.
The ghouls had been plaguing the area. Raiding villages and infecting survivors to increase their numbers. Some carried scavenged weapons, mostly older rifles and AK-97's left over from desert wars. Those ghouls whose intellect had degraded, the most feral of wretches, were pushed to the forefront where they would sniff at the air and scamper toward the lake. They were closing in and I didn't like the odds that were leveled against us. We flew overhead as I looked for signs among their auras.
I found what I was looking for. The auras of three of the ghouls showed the unmistakable signs of awakened beings, magicians. These three had spread out and among their fellow monsters, creeping along in the darkness. Lily and Rose flew off, taking up positions to the north and south of me and waited for my command. I hardened my resolve, remembering all the horrors I had witnessed, all the victims I had seen who had suffered and died at the hands of the infected. "Now, girls." I sent the message and turned my focus to the ghoul magician below me.
On the north end of the ghoul force, twenty meters ahead of a squad with a ghoul magician among them, Rose appeared in her full angelic glory. "Die." was all she said before unleashing a fireball spell that lit up the night, consuming the ghouls in a flash of fire that reduced them to ash. The ghoul magician didn't even have time to scream. On the south end of the ghoul force, Lily shattered the night sky with a war cry of "FIRE AND WRATH!" Her fireball spell exploded among a squad of ghouls, detonating in the face of the second ghoul magician. They were blown apart, their bits incinerated in the conflagration.
Gun shots sounded over howls of rage and terror in reply to the girls' first spells. The bullets bounced off the attacking angels. Ghouls rushed toward them, fury and feral hunger competing on their faces only to be replaced by confusion when the girls vanished before them. Below me, the last ghoul magician looked up, his astral sight bridging the space between the physical and spirit worlds, and spotted me immediately.
"Hi." I said to the monster below me.
The ghoul sorcerer lifted his hand in a gesture of power, gathering mana into what would certainly be a nasty spell. Lily and Rose tackled him astral space, dragging him down to the desert floor and tearing his aura to shreds. It was over in a flash of angelic wings and the screaming of the damned. In those first six seconds of the battle, my girls had killed eleven ghouls and stripped the force of their magical support.
"Now we wait." I took their hands again. "Thank you girls. Are you okay?"
"I am unharmed." Rose said to me. "Thank you for asking."
"They were unable to injure me." Lily added. "I am also grateful for your concern."
"I would rather you were home, helping Aria and having fun playing, but I am very glad you are here. As soon as this battle is done, once we have destroyed these monsters, I'll send you back. We'll get ice cream when I get home." I looked at my ally spirits, my beautiful and powerful daughters, and felt a tremendous pride.
"We love you, father." Rose said. "I am proud to fight by your side."
"Rose is correct." Lily said. "I will not fail you again."
"You've got nothing to prove Lily." I assured her. "You've done wonderfully, you both have." They both squeezed my hands softly. There, in the astral space above a kill zone, I found a brief moment of peace.
We were interrupted as Creep's astral form shot up to us like a comet. He stood there, blazing in his power. "Hey, Simon found their com signal and is intercepting their chatter. He's cut their long range communication, so its just all us monsters in the desert ready to kill each other. Zero called in and says he can put down near the lake but it will be close to dawn before he can get back."
"Thanks, Creep. Tell Jazz, we're on for phase two. Weapons free." I added. "And Creep, stay safe and keep the gun-hands supported. Nothing happens to Simon. Keep him covered at all costs."
I could sense the satisfaction that rolled off Creep's soul. "Sure thing!" he chirped, then blasted away back to his own body.
"He is unpleasant," Rose commented to me.
"Can I kill him later?" Lily asked.
"I agree, Rose, and no you many not, Lily. Not unless he tries to kill me or you or the others. If that happens, then yes, kill him hard." I wondered how it was that Creep made even spirits uncomfortable.
Below me, four ghouls were patting down the corpse of the last dead ghoul sorcerer. I watched as one's aura vanished. In the physical world his head exploded as a large caliber rifle round struck him in the back of the head. Taz had opened fire, right on time. Ghouls dropped and tried to flatten themselves into the salt strewn waste.
"Okay, girls, lets get started on the next part of the plan." I focused my will and manifested my astral form into the physical world. On the north end of the ghoul force, Lily and Rose manifested in all their angelic glory. A tick later fire shattered the night as they began to cast their spells upon those monsters in the night.
The ghouls below me rose and fired on my astral form. Bullets passed harmlessly through me. I watched as a another ghoul's head exploded. Its aura vanished and as it fell lifelessly to the ground. To the north, mana flashed and fiery explosions rolled across the landscape. I could see heavy currents of chaos, confusion, and mind-searing hunger polluting local astral space. The ghouls to the south were surging forward toward the lake, spreading out as they went.
The two ghouls remaining below me met their end from Taz's rifle. I streaked across the desert and dove back into my body. I opened my eyes and took a deep breath. Rifles were firing all around me. I rolled onto my stomach and saw a wall of flames erupting in the distance. Ahead of me, stretching south, were dozens of ghouls. Some were sprinting forward with mindless abandon, others were advancing with shouldered assault weapons firing short bursts of death.
I picked out group of ghouls who were laying prone in the salty desert and firing methodically on our position. A burst of fire passed half a meter away from me and hit Taz in the forearm. The bullets blew his arm off just inches below the elbow. His right hand landed in the salt, his index finger twitching as if trying to fire back. Taz fell, the shock from the wound knocking him unconscious.
"IGNIS MAGICAE!" I shouted. A small white orb materialized above the prone ghouls for a fraction of a second, then exploded with the the full force of my magic behind it. They died in an instant, their ammunition cooking off in a fury of micro-explosions. I scurried over to Taz.
Blood was squirting from the shredded stump of Taz's right arm. It marred the salt bed we were fighting on with a growing dark stain. Taz was unconscious, his aura was weak, and he was losing a lot of blood. I grabbed his arm, poured out water from the blood falls on the shattered stump of his arm and began the healing incantation. Bullets broke the night all around me, explosions of magical energy raged in the distance, and I was sitting on a white patch of salt around a dead lake, healing a man who had been unfortunate enough to get hit. I tried to shut everything out, but my memory haunted me for a moment. I remembered a time, not too long ago, when I was kneeling in the snow, healing a Knight Errant security guard. Blood had surrounded me then, the snow a strange mix of crimson and pink. Around me the white salts were soaking up the moisture from the blood, leaving a sticky mess of bloodstained salt crystals around me. Taz's aura was weak, the cyberware in his body made it difficult to get the spell fixed to him. I held onto his arm forcing mana energy into him, prompting the healing processes.
"FLASHLIGHT!" Jazz yelled out. I steeled myself and heard the claymore mines discharge a tic later. Ghouls screamed in pain and howled in rage.
I felt the healing spell finally latch onto Taz's aura. I held it there, sweat beading on my skin, as the battle raged under a dark sky sprinkled with stars. The blood stopped shooting out from Taz's stump, splintered bones knitted themselves together, and a new layer of skin grew over the exposed wound.
Lily and Rose appeared next to me.
"The first group of ghouls have been destroyed." Lily reported.
"Excellent work, girls!" I nodded to a pair of figures laying limply on the ground. "See if you can't heal our wounded. If any ghouls get to within fifteen meters of our position, kill them."
0245 hours, operation area local time
The last ghoul presence I could sense vanished with the sound of several assault rifles firing. The desert returned to a desolate silence under an uncaring sky.
Jazz's voice came over the comm clearly. "Six wounded. Worst is Taz, the rest were mostly superficial. We're reloading mags now then we'll mop up any survivors."
"Astral is clear. Most of the local spirits have shied away." Creep added.
"Understood. Simon, where is the target?" I patted a damp cloth on Taz's face.
"Two hundred meters west. It's out on the lake and six meters subsurface." Simon replied. "You're going to need a mask or goggles. The water's saline level is through the roof. You'll blind yourself if you go down without eye protection."
"Good to know. Thanks, Simon." I replied.
0648 hours, operational area local time
Dawn saw the Osprey land near the water. We loaded Taz into the belly of the beast. For him, that job was done. We unloaded the ZodiacII from the Osprey and cruised out to the coordinates for our target. The little boat's electric engine was quiet, producing a soft buzzing noise and a thick spray behind us. We bounced over the crystalline green waters and slowed to stop over a darker patch of green. We were over one of the deepest points in the lake. I pulled on the dive mask and fitted it tightly over my face.
"Respirator?" Ding, one of our FNG's*, asked.
"No, thank you,I'm fine." I replied. I slipped over the side and into water that felt strange on my skin. I was buoyed up, and floated easily. "Okay, anchor please."
Jazz handed me the small ten pound anchor and I sank like a stone. I felt my boots hit the bottom, about six meters down. There were no fish, no plants, no sign of life of any kind. The water was warm, and all around me the area had a green tinge to it. Above me the ZodiacII provided the only shadow on the bottom other than my own.
I pulled on the anchor cord and waited as Jazz lowered a large bag down to me. It took me ten minutes to level a place on the packed-salt lake bed. I pulled out the device within and worked it into position. I hit the power button and watched for a moment as it came to life. I felt a soft impact, something like being hit by a soft pillow, as the ultrasound and sonar fired. I swam up to the surface. Jazz helped me into the boat, then we turned and headed for shore.
Simon monitored the sonar sensor from the shore. The data came back gradually as the sensor oriented, mapped the area, then began its deep probe of the lake bed. "Composition is salt, salt, and hey... more salt." Simon offered. "I've got a density difference, a significant one actually, about two meters from the probe. Once we finish this cycle, can you move the sensor over that area for a deep scan?"
"Not a problem." I replied. Two hours later, Jazz and I went out on the ZodiacII. Simon signaled that the first scan was done about ten minutes later and I dove under to move the device. Simon put a directional arrow on the sensor's display panel with a range indicator that dropped as I got closer to the target area. When I was over the spot he wanted to scan, a 'thumbs up' signal appeared. I set the sensor and swam back up to the surface. Below me the sensor bent its technological abilities to locating the anomaly we had been sent to investigate.
May God have mercy on our souls.
*FNG : acronym for "fraggin' new guy". A variant of an older term from the late 20th.
Thank you for reading my fan fiction. I hope you enjoyed the first part of this story line. The story of Operation Emerald is one derived from game play, but from a different character. I hope you'll join me next time for Part two!
I write this fan fiction blog because I enjoy doing it and as a writing exercise. Your feedback, comments, and criticisms are always welcome.
I also design, write and publish role-playing game books as well as comic books (coming soon) and will be releasing children's books (again, coming soon... waiting on art). You can find my RPG material on Drivethrurpg.com under my company Sinopa Publishing LLC. Presently, I've been releasing open game license content and will be releasing my own, original RPG in 2019.
Some of the things I have coming soon (2018):
The Steel Road ~ Funded on Kickstarter in June of 2018, this book is scheduled to fulfill to backers this month (August, 2018). It will become available on Drivethrurpg.com after fulfillment is complete and will be available on Amazon once I have my store running.
Whispers of Persephone ~ Coming to KickStarter August 25th, 2018!!! My little bloody book of necromancy. A new arcane tradition, mechanics for ritual sacrifice, new spells/rites/rituals, new feats, and several new magic items. This is a book to bring the 'DARK' back to your dark arts. Don't miss the KickStarter campaign, as it will be a great opportunity to get this book and to help it be all it can be! Illustrated by the renowned artist, Christian Martinez! I'll be releasing a few promotional images over the coming weeks before launch. I hope you'll help spread the word and support the KickStarter campaign.
47 Furious Tails ~ The comic book retelling of the infamous Ako Incident! The legend comes alive as we explore the events leading up to the Asano's final trip to Edo. Issue one is coming to KickStarter later this year! Illustrated by the remarkable Alexia Veldhuisen, this comic is a treat for the eyes.
|Cover of issue 1|
Art by: Alexia Veldhuisen
Tarot Adventures, Book Three: Death comes to Glenfallow ~ Currently in development, this adventure continues the Tarot Adventures series in grand style. Packed with fearsome foes, deadly encounters, and a principle villain that will leave your players stunned, this book ups the stakes for your adventurers. Lives are at risk and the only people who can help are sitting around your game table. Written to be a deadly level challenge, this adventure will leave Glenfallow changed forever. Whether that change is for good or ill will be determined by the player characters. Glenfallow needs its heroes. Can you live up to the expectations, stand against a dire evil, save the people of Glenfallow and survive to the tell the tale? (Artist: TBD ...)
Coming in 2019:
More Tarot Adventures ~ Adventure continues as the hand of Fate is played out.
More issues of 47 Furious Tails ~ Asano and his entourage arrive at Edo. Destiny unfolds as Kira clashes with Asano. Death, honor and revenge in the Edo period. Don't miss this amazing story.
Sinopa Publishing's first comic book anthology project (this showcases a number of artists/writers who have contributed to our RPG product lines). Example art from that project is shown below.
And... children's books, an original role-playing game, and so much more!
Wow... yeah I've been working on a lot of projects. I hope you'll be as excited about these books and comics as I am. It's amazing to be able to produce them.
Legal Stuff: All art included in this post is copyrighted by the creating artist or by Sinopa Publishing LLC. All rights reserved. Use of these images is not permitted without express written consent of the artist and Sinopa Publishing LLC. Thank you!