Heavy work loads have kept me from updating of late, but our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign continues apace. The characters, aided by scions of the Houses Arvasala (who control the canals and water trade in the area near Parras Das, and the Davira, who mine oridium — the element that powers many of the ancient Atlantean contraptions, as well as being the material “blasters” use. Their vessel is Warm Winds, a large, armed merchantman they have modified with a carry deck for the three Dogfish. They can be launched and recovered using a trapeze rig similar to those on the airship Akron. Crewed by the US marines under Zelansky’s command, and Martian sky sailors under the captain hired by the Arvasala and Davira, the ship moves along the canal out of Parras Das to Avevel, a city on the edge of the Aerian desert. The nearby hills are inhabited by Red Martians that mine the oridium for the Davira family.

Of course, they get attacked by a pair of vessels from a nearby city-state that has attacked the oridium mines and the villages the miners live in, attempting to snatch the oridium trade from the Davira. A battle between the two slave-driven galleys (ala Space:1889) was short-lived, with some excellent rolls by the characters. The Dogfish, in particular, had been ripping up the enemy. This led to the destruction of one raider galley, and the capture of the crew of the second. The characters put down a boarding party to force the surrender of that crew, but the commander was not disposed to give in, and Cointreau wound up killing him. This led to him picking up a pair of Grodh, the four-armed ape-like “people” of Mars. They were slaves of the captain, now they are his by right of combat, as is everything else he had.

They learned a force had been landed by these pirates to take the mines, and the Dogfish raced off to investigate, finding a pitched battle between a hundred of the raiders vs. twice as many miners who were not as well armed, and whose villages had been bombed from the air, pushing them into the hills. A few strafing runs and the arrival of Warm Winds led to these soldiers retreating into the desert…and a certain death. As a punishment for the attack on the villages, the crew of the second ship were turned over to the locals. Almost certainly, they are now slaves.

The ship continued south toward Morteus Das and was caught in a massive, days-long sandstorm that damaged the ship and caused the maglev drive to malfunction. They were only just able to put the ship down in the blinding swirl of dust, then had to wait out the storm. The next day, they woke to find the ship had nearly gone over a half mile deep chasm into the Meridani Sinus, an area that has some of the last free-standing water on Mars due to the valley having been cut off and its aquifer blasted to the surface by meteor hits on either end of the valley. They also found dead animals and Martians from several caravan vehicles that had been blown across the desert to end up in the sand dune under Warm Wind‘s aft. Several had attempted to scale the dune to get to the broken out windows of the captain’s cabin, but were killed by sandblasting.

A two day stop at Sigeus Portus, the “Gateway to the Valley” provided a diverting stop where they were feted by the priests of the city for their “pilgrimage” to Morteus Das. The ship was fixed and they continued over the lakes and scrublands of the Sinus, then through the mountains to the City of the Dead. In the passes of the mountains, they anticipated an attack, and the Dogfish spotted a pirate vessel with smaller propeller-driven skiffs getting loaded up to attack. A few strafing runs damaged the lead vessel, but the skiffs got away in the twisting valleys of the mountain range and almost made it to Warm Winds. One was shot down by Veitch and his new, orichalcum-powered coilgun; the other crashed into the side of the ship and led to a boarding action that was quickly repelled by Cointreau, Pin-Li, and the Grodhs. A few exchanges of cannon fire saw Warm Winds damaged, and the pirate vessel dropped from the sky.

Finally, they made it to Morteus Das, the City of the Dead, and the first Atlantean city of Mars. The city was found to be crumbling, the buildings twisted and ruined, and there were several wrecks of skyships that had crashed at various times. Zelansky decided they would land outside the city, upon seeing that. They could see the Black Gate in the center plaza of the city, a gate large enough for battalions to walk through, for tanks and other materiel to drive through. Around the walls of the city, small, desperate settlements with movement. The great X of canals that carved through the city have been dammed, preventing flow into the city and a wide circular canal hems the city in. Even though the land outside the ring canal is green and as fertile as Mars gets, the settlements on that side of the canal are abandoned and in disrepair…why? The feeling of despair, loneliness, and danger permeate the air, and Veitch hears in his head, “I knew you would come! I am so looking forward to meeting you, my boy.”

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