The third installment of our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign picked up right where we left off. Veitch and Erha rescued, the vril psychic in custody, and an expedition to Shambala planned. A small battalion of US Marines get ready to go through the Eye of Shambala. They know Morana, the former self-crowned Queen of Shambala has support there, so they go through in force, with motorcycles, a pair of M2 light tanks, 400 men with mortars, machineguns, and other weapons. Lastly, they’ve rigged an incredibly dangerous catapult system to throw the Dogfish minifighters through the Eye. To stay aloft, the pilots have to release the folding wings into position as soon as they are through or they’ll go into the ground like lawn darts.

Zelansky rides in one of the lead tanks, the marine colonel in the other. They find, on the other side, not just an entrenched force, but that the environment in the city is changed. Instead of a temperate climate with almost sea-level pressures, they are in a cold, snowy valley in the Himalayas — Shambala is here, but it has been damaged by bombings, and the once verdant valley is dying from cold. What happened!?!

But before they could investigate, they found themselves in a brutal fight with the people guarding the Great Gate — white-suited men with red stars on their caps: RUSSIANS! These are their elite reconnaissance paratroopers, some of the first in history. There are six Tupolev TB3s parked near the ancient spire that houses the Great Library of the city. The Russians have machinegun nests and mortar emplacements and soon the marines are in a pitched batter with the communists at 15’000′ in the most remote place on Earth. Moments later, the Dogfish come through and both O’Bannon and Veitch nailed their pilot tests, dropping their wings and taking to the skies. Fortunately, the minifighters are still tuned for Maritan air, and handle the shift to high altitude well.

The battle is pitched and Cointreau finds himself flashing back to WWI France. He and PIn-Li do their part, but try to stay out of the main fight…until Pin-Li gets blown up by a mortar. (Not killed, thanks to a massive plot point dump.) Cointreau loses it and takes up a gun — he first time since he was a lieutenant in the war — and starts mowing down any Russians he can find.

Zelansky leads his light tank in combat, punching through the Russian lines to hit the Tupolevs before the pilots can get them started. He succeeds in destroying several, including one that had a pair of I-16 fighters slung under the wings, but they don’t hit the two strange vehicles that come zipping out from behind the TB3s…weird saucer like craft that take to the skies to engage the Dogfish! Something like this…

xp5a693e0dThe Russians have flying saucers!?!  The craft seem to use contra-rotating fans along the outside of the aircraft, and it’s got a smoky exhaust, so not powered by Atlantean crystals or any exotic power source. It’s also got two pilots, one facing forward, one aft, and they each have a pair of 20mm cannons! The dogfight between the minifighters and saucers showed the Russian craft to be very nimble, but that they had trouble with slowing their descent rate. O’Bannon used this to crash one of the saucers, but he was shot down before he could splash the second. Veitch, however, got a great shot and damaged the second. It crashed while trying to line him up for a kill. For the scene, we ditched the dogfight rules from Secrets of the Surface World, and instead used the rules that we developed for Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean.

Eventually, they are able to win through. Between Cointreau going on a killing spree and an excellent use of diplomacy by Zelansky, they got the Soviets to surrender. Having secured the gate, they investigated the old tower and the city and found a few survivors from Shambala that had been kept for interrogation, and a single vril in the uniform of the Imperial Guard of Atlantis. This vril had come here with Morana to bring her followers to Atlantis, and to take what they needed from the Great Library. To Zelansky’s horror, the library is gone! Morana made off with about a third of the material, and burned the rest!

On their return to Los Angeles through the Great Gate, the decision was made to wire the gate in Shambala with enough explosives that, should it look like another force (including Morana) was going to take it, they could destroy it. They also hauled the wreckage of the Soviet saucers home for study only to find out, they are based on one of the Boston Project designs that Zek (Erha’s father) and she had been working on.

They’ve got a Soviet spy in their midst!

For the session after the invasion of Shambala, we switched it up. Instead of continuing with the current group of characters, we moved the action to the Second Earth, Atlania, where we opened on a Japanese torpedo boat, IJN Hayabusa, which had been lost here since 1933 when the inversion and emergence of the Second Earth happened. Only two of the original crew are left — one a PC named Hideki Reizo. An engineering lieutenant who had studied in the United States, he is from a good family of warriors and politicians. He, on the other hand, is a lair, cheat, and coward who was using the navy to get some cache to move into a more lucrative field, like landing a rich wife…and they he got stuck here.

Their ship was attacked by pirates months back and he agreed to help them with the boat in exchange for his safety. He and Ito, one of his machinist mates, are locked in a coal bunker turned into a brig along with the ship’s cook and “comfort woman”, a lizardwoman named Goldie. The ship has just taken a Thulian merchant ship and one of the captives is dumped in the hole with them. He is “the Doctor”, a man that supposedly wanders around helping all the creatures of the world. He knows all the weird chimera races, can fix anyone, it is said.

The Doctor is one of our players’ characters from the first Hollow Earth Expedition campaign in this universe, David Gould –a Spanish doctor who has Atlantean blood which made him our plot device to go to Tibet and find the Eye of Shambala the Americans currently have. He was also lover to Olga Markova — now Morana, the Empress of Atlantis and Queen of Shambala — who was responsible to releasing the Hollow Earth from its “dimensional bubble” inside the Earth. He helped create the Second Earth, and the disasters befalling the people, from the extreme climate changes, to the volcanoes and earthquakes, to the die off of the dinosaurs, to night, which still terrifies many on the world. This is all his fault, and he has been wnadering more to avoid people figuring this out and killing him.

Hideki is released for his shift in the engine room, and convinces the pirates Gould must aid Ito, who has been badly beaten for interfering with the crew when they sought to have Goldie cook her latest clutch of eggs for a crew’s meal. (Ito lost it because not only was this cruel…these men would be eating eggs they fathered on her!) Gould is released to try and heal him and at that moment, things go pear-shaped. Gould spots something in the water — dozens of merfolk, and riding one of them is Gustav Hassenfeldt, a big game hunter and the PC of another player and Gould’s companion in the old campaign.

With the aid of a lizardman (Blue Eye) and a hawkman (Icris) — both PCs — two dozen merfok, and Icris’ sons, Greay Feather and Swiftwing, they assault the ship and take it, while Gus’ beautiful 120′ trimaran comes into view. Gould and Gus meet for the first time since Gus saw Gould leave to track down Morana in the cavern of the Great Machine that had held the Hollow Earth inside of Earth. Gus is ecstatic to see his friend alive, but Gould is convinced they are simply waiting to kill him or worse. At some point he realizes that Gus has always been incapable of deceit; his friend is actually happy to see him.

They return to Gus’ base in the port town of Sagras just in time to catch a message runner coming from the west with a message for the Queen of Ultima Thule, whom Gus operates his trimaran as a privateer, hunting pirates and evil-doers. She has returned! it tells them. Morana, it seems, has returned to Atlantis. They fix and provision Hayabusa, which Hideki renames Soyokaze (“slow wind”) and they make to set off to Ultima Thule to warn the queen. Gus sneds word through the merfolk. Their songs can carry for hundreds of miles in the water, and they can move messages around the world faster than any ship or hawkman.

There was an interlude to do some character bits, including seeing Gus’ living conditions. He lives in a massive warehouse with his “wife”, the mermaid princess Osha, with whom he now has four children (and one on the way). We made out merfolk really alien, I used a mermaid design by Iain McCaig that is pretty, but really weird. For the longest time, it was their siren call that kept gus with her, but now…well, now it’s just his life.

When they get to Ultima Thule, they find the place has been slowly putting itself back together. There’s the beginnings of electrification, gun and powder manufacture, andthe rebuilding of section of the town destroyed by the inversion. Queen Inanna, a former general for the Emperor of Atlantis, is concerned about the news. Morana was dangerous before, but who knows what she’s been up to in the last three years. Gould is convinced they need to stop her, that there is something “inside her”, an entity or thing, he doesn’t know. Inanna’s new chief of the secret police, a Russian psychic that had been hunting Morana for years in the other campaign, agrees. She had no real talents outside of being able to act as a sort of “psychic battery” that other psychics could pull power from.

Gould gets the idea — Soyokaze has a radio. Could they call for help from Earth? The radio set is shortwave and they don’t have the power or antenna to pull it off, but Inanna has someone who might be able to help…

And that’s where we left off last week.

(Image credit: I snagged this Soviet flying saucer off of Pinterest a few weeks ago but don’t have original source info. My suspicion is Popular Mechanics or some such. If anyone happens to know where it’s from, let me know.)

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