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Modified on 2011/10/18 11:55 by Kerrick Categorized as Books, Deathlands

Oh, for a lodge in some wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumor of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more.

   - //The Task//, Book II: "The Timepiece"
   William Cowper, 1785

   This book starts off in the middle of events - the party is trapped in a ville called Redbone somewhere in the American Southwest, fighting off the army of Baron Malosh. They had come to Redbone seeking to trade some ammunition for food and supplies, and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
   Ryan is facing off against three of Malosh's men behind a barricade guarding the only way out of the ville, so he goes with a desperate plan - holster his weapon and walk toward them, hands up. They're looking for conscripts, so he's hoping they won't shoot him.
   When he gets close enough that they have to expose themselves to cover him, his friends jump up and shoot all three men, leaving the barricade open. Ryan and the others jump over it and head down the street. A few houses down, they hear cries for help and find several people tied up. They free the people; three decide to stay and fight, and two others - a mental retard named Young Crad and an old shepherd named Bezoar - decide to accompany the companions out of the ville.
   They head down a trail along the bluff backing the ville, which leads to the fields; ahead, a storm is coming. They head down a dry channel, while Malosh's men are following with hounds and horses. The companions' hope is that the rain will wash away their tracks and scent. They reach an island just as a wave of water comes barreling down the channel, washing away horses, riders, and hounds.
   After awhile, the rain stops, but the water keeps rising. It looks like the companions might be swept away as well, but more of Malosh's men arrive in boats, telling them to surrender. They can't really refuse - certain death versus a possible chance of later escape is a no-brainer - so they surrender.
   Next, we go to Baron Haldane, who runs a large territory in New Mexico. He's consulting a doomie to confirm a prophecy that he will protect his people (and those for years to come) by committing an act of mass murder. The prophecy is true, and he turns to make his plans to fight off Malosh.
   Meanwhile, the companions are taken back to Redbone, where they find that the trio they'd freed earlier are now impaled on long stakes and the rest of the survivors have been rounded up into the square. Malosh proceeds to sort through them all - the young and old he leaves behind; norms and muties are separated into two groups in his army; the rest (the halt, the lame, and the retarded) are sent to be cannon fodder. Krysty and Jak (despite his claims to the contrary) are herded off to the muties; Ryan, JB, and Mildred go with the norms; and Doc is assigned to the cannon fodder.
   Once the process is complete, Redbone is looted thoroughly. Krysty and Jak are assigned to the "mutie" group, so they're forced to help a contingent of swampies search buildings for bodies and/or loot. Krysty and Jak find a live - albeit badly wounded - villager and attempt to hide him from the swampies, but he gives himself away; the lead swampie, Meconium, buries his hatchet in the man's head then proceeds to taunt Jak about his claims of "Not mutie". The mutie captain, Korb, breaks up the confrontation before it turns into a full-out fight.
   A little bit later, the swampies lure him and Krysty into another building, where they drop a beam on her, pinning her to the floor. Several swampies then face off against Jak, intending to beat him to death. He's a better fighter than they anticipate, though; he wears them all out, then gets Meconium in a chokehold, a knife at his throat. He's about to slit Meconium's throat when Korb levels a shotgun at Jak's head and Malosh himself comes up; he tells Jak to let the swampie go, or he'll be chilled. Meconium drops a turd on his own foot, and Jak finally lets him go.
   Malosh leaves six healthy people (three men and three women) and just enough supplies for those left behind to rebuild, so he can come back later and sack the ville again, then they move out to the south. Their destination: Sunspot ville, a place that has been in contention between Malosh and Haldane for a couple years now. It has strategic importance, because if Malosh can hold it, he can use it as a base to launch attacks further into Haldane's territory.
   And speaking of Haldane... we go back to him meeting with his contact, who will enable him to achieve his goal: Magus. Magus has access to a predark Soviet 122-mm howitzer, as well as a stock of nerve and blister gas. Haldane's goal is to pull his garrison out of Sunspot and shell it with nerve gas, killing all of Malosh's men (as well as the villagers) and making it uninhabitable for years to come.
   The next day, Haldane rides out with Magus and some of his men to test-fire the howitzer. After seeing the demonstration, Magus asks Haldane if he's willing to pay; Haldane says he'll pay the full amount after the deed is done. Magus then produces a large pet carrier holding Haldane's young son, Thorne - collateral against Haldane's future payment.
   On the third day of the march, some of Malosh's scouts report seeing a long-range Haldane patrol. Malosh sends out Korb along with some swampies and hounds; he chooses Krysty and Jak as well because they can obviously fight. They sneak up and ambush the scouts, setting the hounds on them. After they loot the bodies, Meconium "accidentally" lets his hound go, and it charges after Krysty instead of Jak (his intended target). She draws her pistol and shoots it in the head, killing it.
   Meanwhile, back at the camp, Malosh chooses two human shields - Doc and Young Crad - to go into Sunspot and count the number of Haldane's men and report back. They make their way to the ville, where they pass themselves off as simple travelers. Doc runs into the ville's leader, a woman named Isabel. Doc asks if they can buy some food, but she tells him that they have no use for money. He can, however, catch his own dinner if he wishes.
   She takes him and Crad, along with a party of hunters, out of the ville to the south, into what appears to be a barren waste. Soon enough, though, they encounter a field of holes, where scagworms live. They get several trash cans' worth of young scagworms, losing a hunter in the process, then return to the ville to slaughter and cook their dinner.
   That night, Doc and Crad leave the ville by sneaking over the berm. They encounter a creature that has been feeding on the dead outside the ville for the last year or so, which Doc refers to as a gravedigger. Doc carves the number of men into Crad's palm and tells him to run while he holds it off. Crad gets away, but Doc's blasterfire draws attention from the ville scouts, who come down and capture him.
   By the time, Haldane and Magus are in position to shell the ville. Haldane sends three of his men to get the garrison to retreat, leaving the ville undefended, but they fall afoul of the scagworms.
   When Crad returns, Malosh makes his plans. The norms will assault up the north bluff of the ville, which is lightly defended, while the cannon fodder - led by Malosh himself - will charge straight up the main road, drawing most of the fire. Ryan makes sure that he, Mildred, and JB are among the first wave so they can get over the wall and find Doc before anyone else kills him.
   At dawn, the assault begins. Malosh fires off a red flare as he and the cannon fodder begin the charge. Ryan and JB assault an M-60 emplacement, killing all the men there. A tunnel from there leads back through the berm into the ville proper; they and Mildred are on their way when one of Malosh's officers tosses a satchel charge to clear a space in the berm, and they barely make it through.
   When the attack begins, Doc is penned in what passes for the ville's jail, a fenced enclosure. His guard (one of Haldane's men) is about to shoot him when Isabel sticks him in the back with a pitchfork. She frees Doc and leads him into the tunnels below the ville, where she and some others hold him at gunpoint and ask if he's a spy for Malosh. He says he was, but only under duress; a huge blast goes off overhead (the satchel charge), collapsing part of the roof and killing a villager. Isabel has the others gather the stock of guns and ammo they've stolen from Haldane and Malosh's men over the last several months and head back up - they're planning on using the chaos to kill everyone who's not a villager, ending the cycle once and for all.
   Later, after everyone has gotten into the ville and fighting is more chaotic, Krysty and Jak see Meconium chasing down two small boys with his hatchet. One of the boys trips and Meconium is about to bury the hatchet when Jak shoots his ear off. One boy hides behind Krysty, and she pulls the other one free. Meconium lets out a long whistle, summoning most of the hounds. Krysty and Jak grab the boys and take shelter in an old Greyhound bus, where they kill a half-dozen hounds that try to get in. When they get out of the bus, they see Meconium running away; Jak runs after him, tackles him, and grabs the axe, which he buries in Meconium's face. In thanks for saving their lives, the two boys take Krysty and Jak to the tunnels, where they find Doc.
   Meanwhile, as all of the machine-gun emplacements are destroyed, the Haldane defenders fall back to the only hardened building in Sunspot, former tourist information center. Malosh has somone toss a satchel charge at the doors, bringing down the balcony and opening the way; several grenades clear out the defenders in the main room. They clear the hallway, then head down to the basement, where they find a door guarding another hallway - a kill zone. Malosh sends the remainder of the cannon fodder up to douse all the torches along the walls, then some swampies bring down one of the metal plates that used to be over the front doors. Ryan, JB, and another norm use this as a shield as they move forward to plant another satchel charge on the doors. The ensuing blast kills the norm and knocks Ryan and JB out, but opens the doors; more grenades kill all the remaining defenders.
   With the final victory, everyone goes back outside to proceed with cleanup and looting. Doc, Krysty, and Jak hook up with the rest of the group, and Doc introduces them to Isabel. Shortly after, one of Malosh's men lets out a yell - he's spotted a "mutie fight" on the highway below the ville. It's the gravedigger versus a horde of scagworms, which have spread toward the ville in search of prey. The gravedigger manages to get away after a protracted battle, and the scagworms sweep over the dead below, as well as many living who are hiding in the buckled remains of the highway. Incensed, Mildred grabs an M-60 and burns off a belt of ammo, killing as many scagworms as she can before the rest flee.
   Doc tries to convince Isabel to take her people and leave - the scagworms are obviously going to overrun the ville sooner or later - but she refuses. Krysty finds the two boys and asks if they can show her and her friends the way out through the caves. They agree, but before anyone moves, more gunfire erupts - the scagworms are on the move, and they're sweeping toward the ville. The villagers take advantage of the commotion to shoot some of Malosh's men, but doing so pulls them off the berm, leaving nothing between the villagers and the scagworms. Ryan finally convinces Isabel to pull her people back to the caves, while Malosh and his men fall back to the welcome center. About this time, the first of the smoke rounds from Magus' howitzer lands in the middle of the ville.
   In Magus' camp, Haldane is putting another plan into motion - he's going to rescue his son and try to kill Magus. He and his men disable all of Magus' Humvees - though they can't do anything with the larger vehicles - as Magus' men fire off more ranging rounds, then the actual nerve gas. As the final rounds land in Sunspot, they jump into the last Humvee, snatch up Thorne, and flee as more scagworms boil up out of the ground, overrunning the camp. They race over the landscape to the south, but the Humvee crashes into a ditch and Thorne, still in the cage, is knocked out, but not before he sees the gravedigger nearby. He wakes to find the windshield broken out and both his father and the driver gone.
   Back in the ville, the companions are shown the way down through the caves. The villagers choose to stay behind - they all think they're being shelled with high-ex, not nerve gas, and that after everything is over they can reclaim their ville. The companions bid them farewell and pass through a blocked passage, which their guide re-blocks after they've gone - it's blocked to prevent the scagworms from getting through. They fight back hundreds of the creatures before the wave dies off, and finally emerge at the base of the bluff. Looking up, they see that the ville has been hit with nerve gas - everything in or below it is dead.
   Meanwhile, Malosh and some of his men take shelter in the welcome center basement, until the gas starts to sink and kill them. Malosh realizes what's going on and flees the center, heading upwind. Unfortunately for him, Crad had the same idea, but he'd collapsed by the west gate. When Malosh reaches the gate, Crad grabs his ankle, stopping him long enough for him to get a fatal dose of the gas.
   The companions are headed south, away from the ville, when they come upon Haldane's Humvee; Haldane and his driver have been killed by the gravedigger, but Thorne is still stuck in his cage. They free Thorne and bring him along as they head toward his home.

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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