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Dear Diary...

05/27/07:

                Well, today it was my turn. Colonel Nightshade…Daria…approached me about a team to represent the Temple. She said that there was a group of people that she felt would not be an embarrassment and had a good chance to win the Temple some prestige.

               I told her, "Knock yourselves out. But I do have a couple of conditions - no stupid names and no stupid costumes. Meet those conditions and I'll support armor, weapons and training."

               Oy vey.

06/02/07:

                Today was the debut of Extreme Adventuring, so we spent quite some time over at the arena for the taping. Judging by the 'studio' audience, Mirage looks to have a hit on his hands. Most of the 'challenges that the teams faced were traps, physical obstacles and towards the end of each 'grid' some sort of hand to hand conflict.

                The team from the Temple - The Crusaders - looked pretty darn good.

                The team from the Flamingo didn't look so good; they got kicked around by a team of Kobolds armed with crossbows. I don't know if they had a trainer or if they came up with the plan themselves, but the had a row in front with shields and then archers would pop up behind them and fire from cover.

                The fighter for the Flamingo team yelled, "C'mon! They're only Kobolds" and led a charge. He was pin-cushioned for his effort and the team's Mage's last words were, "Go to commercial."

                But the crowd's favorite moment was when one team entered a room and was confronted with a rope hanging next to a sign that read, "Pull me." One of the members did just that and was promptly 'eliminated'. Well, OK, that was actually funny.

06/23/07:

                Went to the taping of the fourth episode of the Extreme Adventuring today. They've changed the format. The teams have improved so the challenges are tougher and combat was more frequent and more vicious - Goblins and more of the Kobold archers. There were also a couple of Giants - but they tended to retreat as soon as they were hit. Once again - the Crusaders did the Temple proud.

                And I'm not sure - but I think there have been more people at services……

                Rodrick and Olivia met for lunch and to talk business. Rodrick mentioned that he'd seen in one of his daily reports that there had been a recent glut of people applying for loans to purchase equipment and then to 'modify' it for trapping, containing and transporting large creatures. They were also looking for money to hire Mages to help by knocking the creatures out and readying for transport.

                Olivia said that it would be interesting to see if the creatures showed up in the games and could someone be stockpiling them for another purpose. Private zoos, or maybe underground fighting? She was pretty sure that one person was behind it all and decided to do some Scrying to find that person.

                She asked Rodrick for the paperwork from the oldest such loan - figuring the oldest would be closest to being finished with their outfitting. Allison found the paperwork and noted that two of them are already in default for missing their first payments.

                "This one, now…this one is interesting," she said, "they came in, got their loan and were back three days later to pay it off, in full."

                So Olivia decided they were the people to scry. "They're successful. That means they're doing it right." Unfortunately, she had no luck finding them.

                Rodrick tried a more mundane approach. He had Allison send someone to the address they'd provided to offer them another loan, "Since you're such a valuable customer!" He even told Allison to have them offer a special interest rate.

                The cheese is out…

06/24/07:

                Well, Rodrick's ruse worked. The spokesman for the group he and Olivia were interested in showed up at the Paris, to ask for another loan.

                He was an average looking guy, Human - wearing scavenged BDU's and light armor. This time they asked for 70,000 chips (the last loan was only for 10,000). Rodrick had the clerk stall the guy so Olivia could get there to get a look at him. She did and Rodrick approved the loan and the guy left with his money. Olivia scryed and found him and a couple other guys at a garage, dealing with a mechanic. There was a semi truck and trailer that had been fitted with steel armor and was having asbestos put on top of it. The windows had been replaced with Lexan and the tires were being swapped for solid rubber. On top of the truck was a harpoon gun in a heavily armored turret.

                Bored with Monster Garage, Olivia let the image fade. "I'll check back later." A couple hours later, she found the guy surrounded with books. Books on zoology, a Physician's Desk Reference and some pharmacological texts, doing some figuring.

                "He's got a technical background," Olivia announced.

                Then Allison reported that Rodrick's collectors were having no luck finding the people who'd missed those first payments - and their families claimed that they'd had no word from them. Olivia was sure that they were dead and ordered that their family members be brought in. So they were hauled in and Rodrick requested the presence of a Street Judge as well.

                The family members brought someone with them - a pair of older gents wearing long white robes who presented themselves as "Professional Witnesses". The Street Judge objected, "We can't proceed with them here!"

                "Why not?" Olivia asked.

                "They're getting paid."

                "So?" Rodrick asked. "You are, too. Besides, all that's going to happen here is we ask some questions. There will be consequences if they lie, later, as I'm sure they're aware."

                Olivia asked the Witnesses if they had Guild cards - they handed them to her, "But of course, Lord Aladdin - as you see this all perfectly legitimate."

                So they questioned the families and discovered that the missing people had left Vegas with the intention to capture creatures to sell to the producers of Extreme Adventuring. Olivia asked for photos of the missing so she could scry for their dead bodies. One of the Witnesses spoke up, telling the family members to leave the room. "I will watch for you," he promised.

                Olivia scryed and found them. Parts of them, anyway. They were scattered amongst other bodies, some heads with the spinal columns still attached. The skins had been removed and were nearby, being stretched and tanned. Looking further out, the surroundings looked like one of the Southern Utah National Parks. There were also more heads. They were on pikes; some of them appeared to be 'fresh' while others were sun-bleached.

                The pikes seemed to form a 'barrier' that surrounded a village. The people who could be seen moving about the village were all women who had a lot of ritual scarification and were wearing what seemed to be homemade gillie suits. There were a couple of women with sniper rifles, in position to cover the nearby highway.

                Between the highway and the village there was something that had a real "shrine' kind of feel to it. It was a clean, flat area with piles arranged around it. Piles of ammunition, bottled water and canned food - and one pile of mummified male genitalia that had been rather artfully arranged.

                Rodrick took it all in and said to Allison, "Make a note - from now on - all loans must have a co-signer or collateral."

                Olivia let the connection go and we brought the families in. They looked like they were expecting the worst. Olivia told the families, "They're dead."

                "They are?"

                The Witness said, "The scrying revealed one of your missing. Others were present but were unrecognizable."

                "I am sorry for your losses," Rodrick said. "Since my contract was with them, not with you, you are free to go." The Witnesses documented what they had seen and heard, signed it and handed a copy to the people who had hired them, keeping the originals for themselves. They bowed and left.

                "Sorry for your loss," Olivia told the families, "try to have a nice day."

                When the families were gone, Olivia Scryed around for more outstanding loanholders. Most were dead, but they did find a few survivors and Olivia teleported herself and Rodrick off to fetch them and bring them back to Vegas.

                The last one they found was near death. He was out in the desert, laying on a rock with most of one leg missing and a tourniquet on the stump. The rock was surrounded by ten-foot long worms that from time to time would rise up and, unable to get at the man, hiss at him in frustration.

                Olivia identified them as cluster lizards. "He is so screwed." She called me and asked if I wanted to go rescue the poor man.

                "He's on a rock right? Teleport onto the rock, grab him and bring him back," I said.

                "Okay. Want to come help with the Healing?"

                "Sure, be right over."

                I got there just as she 'blinked' out and Rodrick and I watched in the crystal ball as she appeared on the rock. Apparently it was hideously bright (brighter than it appeared in the ball) and she instinctively threw her hands up to cover her eyes, dropping the grenades. They bounced down the rock and onto the sand. Fortunately, she hadn't removed the pins yet. Blindly, she felt around for the man with her foot. She connected and the guy rolled off the rock onto the sand.

                There was a horrible chorus of chewing, crunching and slurping. And screaming.

                Olivia teleported herself back. Just in time, too - she was suffering from some pretty bad burns. Some sunburn, but most of the damage was from the rock! From the looks of her hands, it was more than hot enough to cook on. I took her to her room and let Annike fuss over her. She did some Healing and was applying a cold compress to Olivia's face when I left and Olivia was demanding boat drinks - with a straw.

                I have to wonder - what was going on out there? Not even Death Valley could affect someone so quickly.

                Can it?

06/30/07:

                Went to watch another taping of Extreme Adventuring. In one match - a team came to a sign that read, "Right - the easy way. Left - certain death." The team went left and was met by a team of Orcs who had constructed a flame-thrower using lamp oil and some bellows. Four members of the team were killed.

                Their sponsor appealed to the judges - protesting the legality of the flame-thrower and demanding that the Orc team be disqualified - but the Orcs were able to produce a reference book that told how the Ancient Greeks had something very similar and the judges had to allow it.

               Then it was time for the Crusaders. They'd been matched against the Kobold team that had been doing so well. The Crusaders were progressing thru the grid and reached a room where the Kobolds were waiting for them. They were in their usual position - shield bearers in front, snipers in the back. Three Crusaders with bows stepped up in unison and pulled their bows strings back, in unison.

                In unison, the bowstrings snapped.

                The Kobolds pressed their attack, pinning them down while they tried to re-string their bows. Before the Crusaders retreated, two of them were dead. Olivia and I both smelled something fishy and Olivia cast some magic to see if the strings had been Magically tampered with, but there was nothing.

                She asked me, "What are you going to do?"

                "Nothing. They signed up, agreeing to this - doing something just doesn't seem right."

                The Crusaders were falling back, dragging their fallen with them, when the rearguard stumbled and fell - tripped by his bootlaces, that had suddenly came undone. As the Kobolds fell on him, Olivia again tested for Magical tampering. Nothing. Finally, the Crusaders got out of the grid.

               Word had made it to the other teams and Slaughterhouse was looking worried. Rodrick told them that he and Olivia would go over and check all their gear. Everything checked out okay. Then Olivia demanded to see all of the Crusader's gear. Rodrick and I went with her. The survivors were looking real shaky and Daria was talking with them.

               Rodrick was looking at the bows and asked, "How often do you change these strings?"

               "Every two weeks - or more frequently if needed."

               "Do you recognize these strings?" Olivia asked.

               They checked the gear maintenance logs and everything looked right. Olivia went over everything with Fairie Fire, looking for Magic. Nothing.

               "Did you check your equipment before you entered the grid?" Olivia asked.

               "Yes!"

               "And there was no sign of mildew on the strings?"

               "Mildew? In the desert? We would have noticed that…."

               Olivia asked Lord Mirage for permission to walk the grid. He granted permission and she went over the entire thing, using Fairie Fire.

               Nothing.

               When she was finished she asked Mirage, "Any theories?"

               Mirage shrugged, "I must admit the incident is unusual but there must be a logical explanation."

               "Such as?"

               "A lazy equipment manager?" he suggested.

               Olivia asked if he had any idea who might profit by the Crusaders loss.

               "Who knows?" he said. "There were a couple of large, anonymous wagers made against them."

               "Really? I'm sure Caesar would be interested in that," Olivia said.

               "Why should he be? They were all placed legally."

               "But tampering is not legal, is it?"

               Mirage smiled, "You're assuming…you have no evidence."

               "I'm working on it," she assured him.

               Mirage turned to me and said, "I am so sorry to see the loss of the cream of Elvendom. A terrible loss."

               "That's very kind of you," I said, but didn't really mean it anymore than he did.

               Daria approached and asked me if I would speak to the team. "They're awfully depressed but want you to know that they're ready to continue."

               So I told them, "Are you sure you want to do this? You don't have to, you know."

               One of the survivors said, "It was only Kobolds…"

               Another said that they'd heard about the flame-thrower.

               "It could have been worse…" I said.

               "Right!" Olivia said, "Could have been Elf fricassee."

               The new team captain said that they would think about it and asked me to attend the practice session tomorrow. I agreed. Olivia went to the Stratosphere to speak to Caesar and was told that he was busy and would not see her. Rodrick gathered their team and took them shopping to augment their weapons and armor.

07/01/07:

                I met the Crusaders at their practice hall. The hall was filled with an air of gloom. I couldn't blame them. So I reiterated, "You don't have to do this anymore."

                That made them more depressed and the new team captain asked, "Doesn't Corellon have anything to say to us?"

                So I asked Corellon if He had anything He wanted me to pass on. He did. "Well, next time do better." Great - He's been spending time with Crom.

                I passed it on and added, "Again - you don't have to do this - but if you choose to do so - I support you. Anything you need - equipment, training, whatever, just let me know." They discussed it and agreed to go on. I gave them a Blessing, told them that services would be held for their three fallen teammates in the afternoon and returned home. Olivia hired Professional Witnesses for both her team and mine.

                The service was well attended - and a lot of the people seemed to be fans of the team. Lord Flamingo had services for his team as well; he went for the New Orleans jazz funeral approach. As we watched its progression down the strip we noticed that trapped in the traffic jam was a heavily armored big rig. A badly abused, heavily armored big rig. The rig that Olivia and Rodrick had Scryed being outfitted. When the traffic cleared they moved on - towards the Mirage. We went inside so Olivia could Scry on them.

                That truck had taken a beating! Two of the solid rubber tires had been shredded, there were entire sections of asbestos missing and the armor was buckled - from the inside. So Olivia changed the view to the inside of the trailer. The resident was slamming itself against the walls, making it difficult to get a good look at it. But it suddenly stopped. It had spotted a weakness in a section of the wall and sat down to work on it.

                Then we could really see it. It was probably fifteen feet long (tall? It appeared to be bipedal) and covered in short, prickly looking hair. It also had horns facing forward from its head and a row of nasty looking spikes down its spine. The hands ended in evil looking claws, claws that were busy enlarging a whole in the armor.

                Olivia asked, "Should we warn Mirage or just watch?"

                "Watch," Rodrick said.

                "Absolutely," I agreed.

                So we watched the truck and a smaller support vehicle pull into the loading dock area at the Mirage. (Olivia and Rodrick both called and warned their security people to be on alert.) The truck sputtered to a stop and Mirage officials in their three-piece suits joined it.

                A couple men got out of the smaller vehicle and unloaded six smallish crates packed with shock absorbing materials. Each one held a large, mottled egg. The boxes were set on the ground and each one had a man standing by it with a gun trained on the egg. A man (the leader of the group?) had climbed out of the semi and walked around to the back of the trailer to supervise a crew of workman who were placing a heavy steel cage against the back of the trailer.

                When it was in place the door was opened and the leader yelled to the creature inside, "Come and take a look - we've got your kids!"

                The creature slowly emerged to take a look. It took in the guns trained on her eggs, looked at the leader and sneered, "You die."

                He shook his head; "I don't think so. You know the arrangement, you make it to the end of the season and you get them back. Or do we machine gun them now?"

                Mama sullenly walked into the cage and with a startling burst of speed threw herself against the far wall of it, arm outstretched. She almost managed to grab the leader - I think she missed him by a whole three inches.

                One of the Mirage suits looked rattled and said to the leader, "I think this is a little more than we asked for…"

                The leader shrugged; "Okay - we'll let her go."

                "No! No, don't do that."

                "You said that you wanted something different," the leader said. "Now. Your bounty sheet said 50,000 chips for 'something different'. This one is clever - it talks, add 30,000. As you can see she's a real bad ass, add 30,000 more. Then there's the fact that we got it back here, alive…. let's call it 200,000 chips." They suit looked at the cage one more time, agreed to the price and handed over the chips. The leader took them, counted out the amount he owed Rodrick and divided the rest up amongst his crew.

                Olivia let the image fade and asked, "So how will our teams defeat that thing if they come up against it?"

                Rodrick said, "Arm up with high caliber weapons, frag it and sit the rest of the season out?"

                I suggested that their team and mine combine their training efforts and they agreed. One of the Crusader's trainers came up with a former trick-shot artist who he hired to teach things like shooting three arrows at a time and speedshooting. Olivia spent some time with their mage, trying to teach Sinthia some Magic other than her one spell. As it turns out, she can only do that one when she is scared or upset. Olivia kept trying and attempted to teach her the pain-web spell, with no success; Sinthia almost electrocuted both of them.

                I suggested that she try teaching Sinthia the magic missile thing but Olivia went with a cantrip spell. I am pleased to report that Sinthia can now electroplate items. I told Olivia, "She's a knee-jerk mage; you're not going to have any luck here. At least not today."

                Olivia wasn't ready to give up. She turned back to Sinthia and asked, "You were an ADD kid weren't you? Do I need to get you some Ritalin?"

                "I don't want to talk about it!" Sinthia yelled as Olivia was slammed into a wall.

                "You reacted pretty strongly to that," Olivia said. "I bet that with the proper pharmaceuticals you could advance your studies."

                "Too bad no one's made Ritalin for over two years," I thought to myself.

                But Sinthia was not amused, "I said I don't want to talk about it."

                We could feel power growing. A wind circled Olivia and her hair began to rise.

                Olivia took the hint, "Why don't you hit the hot tub, relax a little."

                Sinthia left and Olivia accepted the icebag that Karyn handed her.

                "She's like Ben Stiller in Mystery Men. All he had was his fury," she observed.

                I said, "It's her only skill, you might not want to mess with her."

                Karyn suggested, "You might try having her teammates insult her."

                Then I took some time and worked with the Priests from both teams. The were both capable of producing Blindness and the Priest of Corellon picked right up on the Inflicting of Wounds and was able to produce the Searing Light, but Padre had trouble with both of those.

                "They just don't seem right," he said, "Not very Christian."

                I could see that. "You're right, but think of them as defensive measures. You have to defend yourself and your teammates."

                He thought about it and finally said, "I'll go pray on it."

                "I understand," I told him and sent him on his way.

07/06/07:

                I went to the taping of Extreme Adventuring with great trepidation today. Olivia's Professional Witnesses proclaimed that they were happy with both teams' equipment. When all the inspections were done, Slaughterhouse was called onto the grid. They went thru some minor obstacle and then ran into the giants. As usual, as soon as one of them got scratched, the giants retreated. The team made it thru some more obstacles and came to a final door. Rodrick's man kicked it in and they discovered that inside it was a group of Human and Elves - all had scavenged armor and weapons. Slaughterhouse stopped in their tracks and one of them was heard saying, "But, but - they're 'people'!"

                Those people charged and Slaughterhouse retreated. Rodrick's man was the first to regain his composure and started his own counter-charge. The others seemed reluctant, but followed him. Silk took a dagger to the shoulder and was pulled to the back by Padre. Sinthia used her anger and sent her electrical bolts fly, incapacitating a few attackers. Then one who hadn't been injured grabbed Sinthia by her hair and slammed her into a wall. That made Sinthia angry.

                "Don't do that! That hurt!" she screamed and the guy went flying into - thru a two-foot thick stone wall. She was on a roll then and made a kicking motion and sent someone who was across the room from her flying thru the fake ceiling.

                The crowd loved it!

                Slaughterhouse worked their way thru the room and into the next room where they were met by a group of Goblins. The Goblins pressed their attack and I could Feel Padre gathering Power. I thought that he was actually going to use the Searing Light. And he did, sort of. Light began to radiate from him, a soothing, rosy light. It enveloped the Goblins and they fell to their knees saying, "We have done wrong. We have wasted out lives. We will love everyone and help others, from now on." Well, game over for them!

                Then it was the Crusaders turn. Things went well until they entered a room filled again with the Kobold archers. The Crusaders initially fell back but they regrouped and came around the corner again. This time with flaming arrows. The leader of the Kobold group took three of them to the chest and dropped. The crowd cheered. Then one of the Crusaders took advantage of cover provided by his teammates and in less than twenty seconds emptied his quiver of arrows. The rest of the team took advantage of that and advanced using hand weapons.

                When they were done, one of the Crusaders who survived the last fight stopped to take the Kobold captain's head. The crowd roared and in response he threw the head up to them.

                Ewwww.

                Yay! But, ewwwwwww.

                The next team up represented the city militia. They were practically skipping thru the grid when they met up with Mama. They stopped, cold in their tracks. One of them whispered, "Oh, shit!" and he did just that. It was almost like Mama used that as a cue, and she charged - going thru the entire team like a hot knife thru butter. She ripped and tore and bit and tossed until there was nothing moving. She dropped what she was holding, glared up at the crowd and stomped off to her holding area.

                The crowd was silent, everyone wondering, "What the fuck?"

                The next group entered the grid - not knowing what had happened but knowing that whatever it was couldn't have been good. They made their way thru rather uneventfully.

                The next team - the Undertakers (with Fred as their fighter, Corellon help them) was going along and got to a room with three doors. A sign informed them, "Behind two of these doors you will find lovely ladies and handsome men to accompany you home - but behind the third - you will encounter certain death."

                They discussed amongst themselves and chose a door.

                Mama leaned out of it, growling.

                The Undertakers' Mage fainted.

                Mama stalked right up to Fred and said, "Drop your weapon." He did. Then he turned and ran. Mama looked at the rest of the team, "Run away," she told them. And they did just that (but I will give them some credit - they picked up the Mage as they went).

                In his box, Caesar stood and roared, "Mirage!!" Mirage jumped to his feet, scurried to the box and knelt. Caesar pointed to Mama who was still in the room, watching and asked, "What is that? It is intelligent and a threat to my city."

                Olivia Sent a message to Phillips - telling him about the eggs being held hostage. Phillips nodded ever so slightly, approached Caesar and whispered in his ear.

                Caesar's anger got icy cold and he gestured to the Cat at his feet, "Mirage - walk with me."

                Oy! That tone of voice!

                Caesar led Mirage down to the grid and spoke to Mama, "I am Caesar. I am Lord here. Your eggs are being held to guarantee your cooperation?"

                "Yes."

                Caesar nodded, paused and said, "Mirage, you will face this creature in Thunderdome."

                Mirage tried, "But the time to reconfigure the arena…" as an excuse to get out of it.

                Caesar ignored him and said to Mama, "When you defeat him, you and your offspring will be taken back to where you came from. Wait fifteen seconds after I leave, then he's yours." And with great dignity Caesar turned his back on Mirage and closed the door behind him.

                Mirage never moved an inch. Until Mama raked his head with her claws from crown to chin and said, "I let you live. Bring me the one who brought me here." Olivia sent that person's name to Phillips and he left Caesar's box to get things in motion.

                Caesar addressed Mama; "This man hired that person to bring you here. You have a complaint against him, this is true, but this one before you paid the other."

                Mama sneered, "If blood is all you people understand, then I will give you blood." With a double slashing motion her claws gutted Mirage where he stood.

                Caesar ordered the camera turned off.

                A very short time later, Lucifer's men brought in the people who had captured Mama. Caesar told them that they were all being accused of illegal slavery. Most of them immediately pled guilty and begged for mercy. Caesar accepted their pleas and banished them. Mama was not happy, until Caesar informed the leader that he would accompany the creature and her children back to their home and they would both be released at the same time. The man tried to object but Caesar turned and left. Some of Lucifer's people moved in to take charge of him and Mama while others began to clear the arena.

to be continued...