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Pilgrimage to Hell

Modified on 2011/10/18 11:24 by Kerrick Categorized as Books, Deathlands

   The book starts off in the late 20th century, describing the events that led up to World War III - the increasing tensions between Russia and the US, ending with the detonation of three nuclear bombs in Washington DC and the US' relatiatory strikes.
   The next chapter takes us forward in time, to the year 2096. A group of mercenaries from the town of Mocsin are in the Darks, chasing rumors of... something... hidden high in the peaks. There are four of them: the leader, McCandless; a senser, Reacher; and two hired guns, Kurt and Rogan. As the story begins, they are making their way up the road toward what we learn later is a redoubt (Redoubt Bravo); Reacher has just had a preminition of death (though whose is unclear).
   As it turns out, it's theirs. A little further up the road, they encounter a wall of fog. McCandless orders Rogan to go into the fog, but he refuses and attempts to push Reacher into the fog instead. McCandless attempts to grapple Rogan, but Rogan gets away and shoots Reacher, who falls over the cliff edge. Kurt tries to shoot Rogan but catches a bullet in the shoulder, knocking him against the stone and making him black out. By the time he wakes, Rogan is fighting McCandless; he wins and kills his erstwhile leader, tosses the body off the cliff, then turns on Kurt. Fortunately for Kurt, Rogan's aim is off, and he misses; while he's busy shooting at Kurt, the mist advances, unseen, grabbing up Rogan and pulling him into itself. Kurt uses the opportunity to flee, returning to Mocsin.
   Back in Mocsin... Trader and his convoy are headed into town, bringing a promised shipment of arms. They are advancing along a road through a narrow defile when they are ambushed by a band of muties led by Scale, a human with some lizard DNA in his genes. A mine planted in the road takes out the middle vehicle in the convoy, forcing them all to stop. Silence reigns for a few tense minutes, then a horde of stickies appears from tunnels dug under the road, climbing over all the vehicles. The crew of the disabled vehicle abandon it, setting a self-destruct and fleeing to the next vehicle back, while the three before it pull ahead and the rest pull back.
   Just when it seems that the stickies might overwhelm the convoy, Trader's men use their secret weapon: electrified rails that have been welded on to every vehicle and tied to a generator. When a switch is thrown, the rails go live with 10,000 volts of current, enough to fry anyone or anything touching them - including all the hapless stickies. The crews them dismount to mop up the rest, and Ryan Cawdor and several others release another secret weapon: armed and armored buggies hidden in the back of a tractor trailer.
   Scale, seeing his plans going south, orders two of his men to fall back to their camp in a jeep; two of the buggies chase them, and Scale and his wheelman use the distraction to get back unseen. Despite his companion's urgings, Scale has only one thing on his mind: raping a new captive he and his men captured the day before. Two stickies manage to jump ont his vehicle as he flees, but they're gone by the time he returns to the camp. He assumes they've been shaken or shot off and forgets about them.
   Ryan and JB Dix arrive at the camp and scout it out from a hill nearby. They're about to simply drop a mortar round onto the largest building (which they correctly assume to be a storehouse) when they see Scale dragging Krysty Wroth across the camp into the building. Ryan realizes they have at least one hostage and that they'll have to go in and rescue them.
   As Scale is about to rape Krysty, the two stickies appear; they're angry and looking for blood. One goes after Scale, who vanishes with it hot on his heels, while the other goes after Krysty. She manages to kill it with a grenade, incidentally starting a fire. She turns - and comes face-to-face with the second stickie, who has apparently dealt with Scale (though we never really learn his fate). Ryan suddenly kicks in the door and shoots at the stickie, but misses; the stickie jumps on him, but Krysty kills it, saving Ryan's life, and they flee the camp as the barn is engulfed and all the ammunition and stores go up.
   We go to a brief interlude that introduces Doc Tanner and Jordan Teague, baron of Mocsin. Doc is the "court jester", a pathetic figure forced to misquote poetry for the amusement of the baron and his men under the threat of punishment (forced bestiality).
   Later that day, in the evening, Trader's convoy has set up camp outside of town in two locations: most of the convoy has set up off the road, while War Wag One (Trader's main war machine), along with two trucks bearing Teague's arms, are on the road itself. Ryan, along with JB, Hunaker, Finn, Samantha the Panther, and several others, take a buggy into town to meet a contact, Charlie the Fish, a mutie barkeep. Charlie tells them of recent events - the miners have staged a rebellion, collapsing two of the gold mines and holing up in the other two; Cort Strasser, Teague's head of security, is now running the show (which they'd already known, but he's now the baron in all but name); that Mocsin's days are numbered (which has become obvious as they rode into town); and that Trader and his men are no longer welcome, as they are seen as aiding Teague. One of the muties talks to Ryan and convinces him to choose the other side, the one opposing Teague.
   As they're talking, Kurt staggers into the tavern, saying that Teague's sec men have seen him. Charlie found him after he returned from The Darks and put him up in a room, hiding him from the sec men (one of whom Kurt pissed off and is desperately trying to avoid). He escapes upstairs, and a band of six men enter only a minute later. Ryan offers to show them where Kurt went; he leads three of them into a back stairwell and kills them, then comes back and kills the other three with the help of JB and Samantha.
   Samantha bears ill news: they were talking to War Wag One when they heard that the rest of the convoy had been hit with nerve gas and were all dead; a new voice had come on the air saying that unless Trader surrendered, they'd destroy the other camp too. (We only find out later that the secondary camp, where Trader was located, was hit with sleeping gas, though how anyone knows this is never stated.) Ryan and his crew were on their own. Ryan makes a decision, backed by the others: take the war to Teague.
   They assault his mansion, kill all the sec men, and find Teague in a back room, along with two women and Doc. Two sec men enter just before they burst forth, but Ryan and Hun kill them after a short firefight; in the chaos, Doc disappears.
   Ryan takes Teague back to the front in time to see Strasser and some of his men pull up, killing the men left behind to guard the buggy. Ryan tells Strasser to order his men back, which he does, then Ryan brings Teague outside, intending to ransom him for their safe passage. Strasser has run out of uses for the baron, though, and has his men kill Teague. They take Ryan and the others captive, bringing them back to the old bank, where they'd built cells and a torture chamber.
   Strasser attempts to blackmail Ryan into telling him how to disarm the booby traps on the Trader's vehicles (which are on a 4-hour timer) by producing Krysty and threatening to torture her. Ryan thought Krysty had been in the camp when it was gassed, but she had left, intending to press on to the Darks on her own. Strasser produces a mutant flesh-boring beetle, which he nearly lets feast on Krysty before Ryan agrees to show him. He and Krysty are tossed into a truck and taken to the camp, while the others are thrown into a cell for later.
   JB and the others are searched, but have enough plastic explosive hidden in their clothes to blow the cell door clean off. They lure two guards down, then blow the door, killing the men. They grab the weapons and blast their way out, making it to the main lobby of the bank just as one of the convoy vehicles explodes, blowing the front of the building in and possibly killing them all.
   Back at the camp, Ryan is trying to delay Strasser until the bombs blow, but Krysty beats him to it - she summons her supernatural strength and disables the two men holding her, grabs one of their rifles, and kills several more before going for cover. Ryan uses the opportunity to dive under War Wag One, aiming for the kill switches so he can get inside without blowing it up. He gets the second switch when he's caught by Strasser and his torturer, Kelber. Strasser pulls out his beloved beetle, intending to feed it to Ryan, but in the ensuing struggle, it somehow ends up in Kelber's mouth instead and he dies horribly. Ryan gets Strasser's pistol and fires at him, but he misses and finds it was the last round. Ryan has only a couple minutes until the backup failsafe blows the wag, so he lets Strasser flee in order to get inside. He blasts his way free using the vehicle's weaponry, picking up Krysty along the way, and they drive northwest, toward The Darks.
   That night, while they're in camp, Ryan spots a group of figures making their way up the road. They're dressed in black rain slickers, so Ryan assumes they're Strasser's men, but just as he's about to fire on them, the leader drops her hood, revealing herself to be Hunaker. They'd survived the blast, though some had suffered minor injuries, and escaped the town, killing several sec men along the way. They took a vehicle and the slickers, and found Charlie, Kurt, and Doc and brought them along.
   Ryan gives the order to pack up and move, knowing Strasser will be right behind JB and the others. He's right - Strasser and the remainder of his men attack the camp, killing Charlie and one of Ryan's men before the wag gets underway, leaving Strasser behind.
   The next several days pass uneventfully, except that Trader's radiation sickness is getting worse, and Kurt drops into a raving delirium, ranting about the fog, and eventually dies. They detour around Great Falls, still a toxic ruin, and reach the foothills of the mountains, where they find three large fetishes blocking the road, set there by the natives. They ride over the constructions and make camp further up at nightfall.
   That evening, Ryan goes off by himself to think, and he's joined by Krysty; they attraction they felt upon first meeting takes hold, and they have sex in the forest, away from the camp. Afterward, Ryan spots an old man silently watching them from deeper in the forest. Without a word or a sign, the man turns and vanishes.
   The next morning, they find Trader has left. Abe tells Ryan that he was on watch when Trader walked by, telling Abe to let him go and that he'd left a note for Ryan. He also says, later, that he saw an old man (the same one Ryan and Krysty spotted) waiting for Trader; they exchanged greetings, then vanished into the forest together.
   Ryan and the others press on into the mountains until the trail narrows to the point where the war wag can no longer proceed. He and JB pick a group of ten: themselves, plus Hunaker, Koll, Abe, Krysty, Doc, Okie, Hennings, and Finn. They leave Cohn in charge, with orders to wait exactly 100 hours and then, if they haven't returned or radioed back, to leave.
   A half-day's walk brings the group up to the end of the road where the fog - Cerberus - awaits. They try incendiary and frag grenades, but these have no effect on the fog, so they fall back to discuss options. Doc suggests using antimatter - the implosion grenades they have. Ryan sends Koll up, since he has the strongest arm; Koll tosses two grens into the fog, but it reaches out faster than anyone thought possible and grabs him; it is in the process of dragging him back when the grens go off, destroying Cerberus and killing Koll.
   After tossing his remains over the cliff into the river, the others advance; they assume they have little to fear, since the fog has guarded the road for the last century, but Abe catches an arrow in the throat. The group retreats under assault from Indians with bows, until they reach the end of the road, a broad, fenced, parking area before a large metal gate. They try to get the gate open, to no avail. The Indians retreat, giving them nearly an hour's respite before they return with an antique (but still working) cannon, with which they fire on the interlopers. At this time, Doc reveals that he knows how to get into the redoubt - a simple 3-5-2 code punched into a panel near the gate that wasn't visible before. They slip in just before the Indians improve their aim.
   Safely inside, they discover a large tunnel lined with empty shelves delving into the mountain. They follow the passage, discovering many rooms stripped bare. In one passage partially blocked by a cave-in, they find crates of weapons, but leave them behind, intending to pick some up on the way out. Further in, they encounter a huge vanadium-steel door, obviously strong enough to resist anything they have; Doc says that he cannot get open it from their side. Ryan and JB employ some grenades in the office next door to blow a way through the wall past the blast door, into a room filled with computers and a large, hexagonal chamber made of brown armaglass - a gateway.
   At that moment, they hear a boom from the front of the complex - the Indians have gotten in. With a bow and cackling glee, Doc ushers everyone into the mat-trans and slams the door shut. They end up in another gate, this one with green walls. The blast door opens easily, letting in a rush of water filled with small, scaled creatures with rows of snapping teeth. They quickly close the door before it opens all the way, and Henn notes that it is "fuckin' hot". Doc tells them that he can program the gate to teleport to its point of origin, if done within 30 minutes.
   They do so and jump back to the Darks, only to find the Sioux have gotten into the control room. They fight, but are driven back into the gate; one of the last arrows fired hits the control panel, breaking it.
   Once more they jump, this time to a gate with gray walls. The redoubt consists of nothing more than the mat-trans chamber and the control room; an open door looks out onto a hellish landscape of red sand, lit by lightning. Ryan flicks his rad counter on, and it registers off the scale. Ryan orders everyone back, realizing they're in the middle of a radioactive wasteland; just before he turns to go, he sees something "blasphemously huge" and shapeless moving at speed toward the redoubt, and they flee back to the gate to make a final jump.

DEATHLANDS, OUTLANDERS, EARTH BLOOD, and JAMES AXLER are all the property of Gold Eagle / Worldwide Library, and are used here strictly under Fair Use guidelines.
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